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Public Policy Report for 21 June 2010

White House Directs Agencies to Cut Budgets in 2012

The Office of Management and Budget has directed federal agencies to cut nonsecurity spending by five percent in fiscal year (FY) 2012. Federal agencies are currently preparing their FY 2012 budget proposals. The announcement comes just months after President Obama proposed a three year freeze on nonmilitiary, discretionary spending. The move is being touted by some as needed fiscal restraint that will help to control a ballooning federal deficit.

According to Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget: “We are asking those nonsecurity agencies to specify how they would reduce their budgets by 5 percent, which will give us the ability to achieve the overall nonsecurity freeze even while meeting inevitable new needs and priorities.”

What this could ultimately mean is that some programs could receive new funding in FY 2012 while others experience budget cuts from the FY 2011 level. “What we’re aiming for is an overall freeze. By asking each agency to come back with something at minus five [percent], we’re creating the room to plus-up some [programs], reduce others and what have you, so that we can continue to hit that overall freeze,” said Orszag at an event at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, on 8 June 2010.

In addition, the White House has asked all federal agencies, including those with security missions, to develop a list of programs that are least critical to the agency’s mission. The exercise is intended to help agencies prioritize programmatic spending.

In his speech, Orszag also highlighted several areas of redundant programs and potentially wasteful spending. “[W]e cannot afford to waste money on programs that do not work, that are outdated or that are duplicative of one another. And yet, right now, there are over 110 funded programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education across 14 different departments and agencies within the federal government; over 100 programs that support youth mentoring scattered across 13 agencies; and more than 40 programs located in 11 different departments with responsibility for employment and training.”

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Senate Defeats Bid to Limit EPA's Regulation of Greenhouse Gases

On 10 June 2010, the Senate blocked a measure to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pollutants that cause climate change. The resolution (S.J.Res. 26) sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would have overturned the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. This “endangerment finding” has been the legal basis for EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Earlier this month, the EPA finalized a rule that would limit the emissions of power plants and large manufacturing facilities starting in 2011.

Senator Murkowski and many other supporters of the resolution feared the negative economic impact of the EPA’s regulation, instead calling for action by Congress. Some Senators, however, called into question the scientific evidence in support of anthropogenic climate change. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said: “There is nowhere near a scientific consensus on either one of the EPA’s ‘findings’ that humans are causing warming or that warming is necessarily bad for the environment or for humankind.”

In contrast, many of the Senators who opposed the Murkowski resolution cited the need for science-based policy and for clean energy solutions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “[W]e have come to the point where thousands of scientists, working throughout the federal government and around the world over the course of decades, have identified a serious risk associated with the emissions of greenhouse gases. Given these scientific findings, the legal mandate from the United States Supreme Court, and the statutory requirements spelled out in the Clean Air Act, the EPA has a responsibility to act,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

In a 47 to 53 vote, the Senate blocked a procedural motion that would have allowed a vote on the resolution. All 41 Republicans and six Democrats (Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia) voted in favor of the resolution.

The failure of the resolution comes as a relief for many supporters of climate change legislation. A vote by the Senate to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding could have impaired the chamber’s ability to pass climate legislation this year, as the ‘threat’ of regulation by the EPA is an impetus for Congressional action for some lawmakers.

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UN to Create Science Policy Panel on Biodiversity

Delegates to the United Nations have given a green light to a plan to establish a new international panel to review the science underpinning policy decisions on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will be charged with “bridg[ing] the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge — documenting accelerating declines and degradation of the natural world — and the decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends,” according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The UNEP foresees the IPBES as an independent panel that will review science and synthesize it into reports for use by policymakers, much like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These reports will cover the state, status, and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as outline policy options for reversing the loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation. Much of this work will involve prioritizing and synthesizing the numerous reports and assessments on biodiversity and ecosystem services conducted by United Nations, research centers, universities, and others.

The IPBES is expected to be formally approved by the United Nations’ environment ministers in February 2011.

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Register for the 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Event

Would you like to help inform the nation’s science policy without trekking to Washington, DC? Why not meet with elected officials in your home state this August? Register now to participate in the 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their members of Congress to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2010, when Representatives and Senators spend time in their Congressional districts and home states. This event is an opportunity for scientists and representatives of research facilities and institutions housing scientific collections to meet with their member of Congress to demonstrate how science is conducted and why a sustained investment in research and education programs must be a national priority. Participating scientists may invite their elected officials to visit their facility or can meet with them at a district office.

Participants will be prepared for their Congressional meetings through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive information about federal appropriations for biological research, tips for scheduling and conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and resources to craft and communicate an effective message.

This event is organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences with the generous support of Event Sponsors Botanical Society of America, Genetics Society of America, Long Term Ecological Research Network, Society of Systematic Biologists, and University of Michigan Biological Station, and Event Supporter Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve—Stanford University.

Participation is free, but registration is required and space is limited. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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USGS Releases First Detailed National Map of Vegetation

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has created the first national map of land-cover vegetation. According to the agency, “The GAP [Gap Analysis Program] national land cover data … is the most detailed, consistent map of vegetative associations ever available for the United States and will help facilitate the planning and management of biological diversity on a regional and national scale.” To access the map, visit http://www.gap.uidaho.edu/landcoverviewer.html.

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Now in BioScience - "Science Advice in the States"

In the June 2010 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr reports on states’ efforts to integrate science into policy. 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/.

In 2006 this column posed the question, “Where are all the state science advisers?” With states challenged to make more decisions about investments in research, science education, and tech-based industry, author Gillian Andres asked, Who is advising the governors? She found that few US states had science advisers within the governor’s office. An informal survey conducted by the AIBS Public Policy Office in July 2006 found that just six states (Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia) had identifiable positions. A handful of other states, including Kansas, had had science advisers in the past, and about half received advice from science and technology advisory boards. Unlike science advisers, however, these boards generally address narrower issues, such as science education and fostering ties between academia and industry.

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2010_06.html.

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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 publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Whether you are new to media outreach or just in a need of a media refresher, “Communicating Science” offers advice, case studies, and training exercises to prepare scientists for print, radio, and television interviews. 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. “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.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available at http://webstore.aibs.org.

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Professional Development: AIBS Workshops on Communicating Science to the Media and Policymakers

Staffed by professionals with years of experience working with scientists, law-makers, and opinion shapers, the AIBS Public Policy Office provides public presentations and small-group training programs that help scientists and educators become effective advocates for science.

Learn more about this exciting AIBS program, including how your organization can schedule a program, by visiting http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.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 AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, 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.

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.

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.

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