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Public Policy Report for 16 August 2010

NSF Leadership Changes

On 5 August 2010, the White House announced the nomination of Dr. Cora Marrett to be the next deputy director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Marrett, a sociologist by training, is currently serving as acting director of NSF. From January 2009 until June 2010 she held the post of acting deputy director, the number two spot in the science agency. Prior to that, Dr. Marrett was the assistant director for Education and Human Resources, where she led the agency’s work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Marrett’s nomination is subject to approval by the Senate. The chamber has yet to act upon President Obama’s June nomination of Subra Suresh to be the next director of NSF. Suresh is currently dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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Climate Cap-and-Trade Is Off the Table in the Senate, for Now

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced that the Senate will not pursue comprehensive climate legislation this fall. Instead, the Senate may take up a narrower bill (S. 3663) that would address offshore drilling regulations, remove the limits on liability for damages from oil spills, invest in oil spill response research and development, promote the use of plug-in vehicles, and create a residential energy efficiency program. The bill would not include a national renewable energy standard for utilities, as some Senators had hoped.

Reid hopes the new strategy of pursuing a less controversial energy bill in September will win 60 votes with little debate or use of floor time. “To be clear, we are not putting forth this bill in place of a comprehensive [climate] bill. But we will not pass up the opportunity to hold BP accountable, lessen our dependence on oil, create good-paying American jobs and protect the environment,” said Reid.

Reid’s decision to defer action on cap-and-trade may have been motivated by the slim prospects for Senate passage in the dwindling number of days left on the legislative calendar. Despite the top Democrat’s plans, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), sponsor of the Clean Jobs and American Power Act, still plans to pursue a carbon-pricing bill this year. Although the final form of the legislation is still being worked out, Kerry envisions a scaled-back version of his original bill (S. 1733), which would have capped greenhouse gases for sectors across the economy. Some political insiders are saying that the best chances for the Senate to pass such a bill may be during a lame duck session after the November elections.

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New Report Assesses Nation's Botanical Capacity

The Botanical Capacity Assessment Project (BCAP) has released a report, “Assessing Botanical Capacity to Address Grand Challenges in the United States.” The report, which includes recommendations for the government, academia, and non-governmental organizations, is believed to be the first assessment of the nation’s botanical capacity.

The Chicago Botanic Garden and Botanic Gardens Conservation International’s U.S. office worked with several partners to assess strengths and areas for improvement in plant science education, research and habitat management in the United States. This one-year, grant-funded project involved four key stages: 1) literature review, 2) survey of the botanical community, 3) workshop with key stakeholders, and 4) production and distribution of a report.

A brief report summary reads: “Botanical capacity plays a fundamental role in solving the grand challenges of the next century, including climate change, sustainability, food security, preservation of ecosystem services, conservation of threatened species, and control of invasive species. Yet critical components of botanical education, research and management are lacking across government, academic, and private sectors. A recent nationwide survey revealed severe shortages of botanists at government agencies, a wave of upcoming retirements, and an alarming decline in botanical degree programs and course offerings at the nation’s colleges and universities. Private sector organizations are helping to fill identified gaps in capacity, but need to work strategically with all sectors to ensure their sustainability into the future. If botanical capacity continues to erode at its current rate, the nation’s science, sustainability, and land management agenda will suffer, opportunities to economically and efficiently solve environmental challenges will be lost, and our public and private lands will continue to degrade.”

The final report and brief summary documents are available for free online at http://www.bgci.org/usa/bcap.

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New Chief for National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center

Dr. Doug Beard has been selected as the new chief of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC). The Center, a part of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is tasked with understanding the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife and developing tools that resource managers can use to protect wildlife and their habitats. As head of the NCCWSC, Beard will also oversee the establishment and program direction of the Department of the Interior’s eight regional Climate Science Centers.

Beard has served as the interim director of the NCCWSC since September 2009. Prior to that, he served as program coordinator for fisheries and aquatic and endangered resources at USGS. Beard has a Ph.D. in zoology and worked in fisheries management in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources before joining the USGS.

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Short Takes

  • A Russian plant genebank is at risk of destruction after a court ruled on 11 August 2010 in favor of plans for redeveloping the land as a housing development. The Pavlovsk Experiment Station, Europe's largest collection of fruits and berries, houses hundreds of varieties of raspberries, cherries, strawberries, and gooseberries, many of which are thought to be extinct in the wild. More than 90% of the collection is found in no other research collection or genebank. The N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, which runs the station, plans to appeal the ruling, but is not hopeful that they will be given enough time to move the collection. "To move the collection of fruits, berries, and ornamental plants would take at least 10 to 15 years," said Fyodor Mikhovich, director of the research station. "Nobody's going to wait that long to build houses."

  • The Senate is not likely to complete their work on a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act before the November elections, according to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Bingaman chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for the bill's provisions relating to the Department of Energy Office of Science and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Bingaman has "no specific plans" to advance his committee's portion of the bill during the Congressional work period in September, which could result in the consideration of the bill during a lame duck session after the November elections. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has already passed their portion of the bill.

  • On 5 August 2010, the Senate unanimously passed S. 3729, a bill to reauthorize NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). In addition to addressing the future of human space flight, the bill addresses the importance of continuity in Earth observations. The bill calls for uniform data standards, the conversion of data from other agencies, and greater use of international data.

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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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