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Public Policy Report for 25 April 2011

FY 2011 Budget Finally Completed

More than halfway through the fiscal year (FY), federal lawmakers have finally finished their work on FY 2011 appropriations. After seven continuing resolutions and a near government shutdown, the deal to fund the federal government through the end of September was signed into law by President Obama on 15 April. The final legislation received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The spending package cuts $39.9 billion relative to FY 2010 — less than the $61 billion House Republicans sought to cut. About $12 billion of the reductions were previously enacted in recent months. Non-defense agencies and programs were cut across the board by 0.2 percent from FY 2010 levels. Some agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Science Foundation, were targeted for additional reductions. Full details of the spending plan are not yet available, as agencies are still determining the impacts to their budgets.

Although the final agreement did not include any restrictions on EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Republican lawmakers were successful in retaining other policy riders. The law includes provisions that remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, prohibit funding from being used for the establishment of a climate service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and bar funds for the Department of the Interior’s “wild lands” policy to protect roadless areas. Additionally, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will not be allowed to facilitate joint scientific efforts between the governments of the United States and China for the remainder of FY 2011. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA, has expressed hope that the ban may eventually be made permanent.

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Register for the 3rd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Event

Would you like to help inform the nation’s science policy without trekking to Washington, DC? Do you want to meet with your members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in science?

Register now to participate in the 3rd 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 3rd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2011, when Representatives and Senators spend time in their Congressional districts and home states. This event is an opportunity for scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their members 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 congressional 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, Museum of Comparative Zoology—Harvard University, Natural Science Collections Alliance, and Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Event Supporters National Ecological Observatory Network, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

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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Legislation Introduced to Repeal Louisiana Creationism Law

Louisiana state Senator Karen Carter Peterson has introduced legislation that would repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. The state law, which has been in place since 2008, encourages science teachers to include in their lessons supplemental materials that attack evolution and promote creationism. Senator Peterson introduced the bill at the request of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and high school senior Zack Kopplin, who together launched a campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.

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National Science Board Launches Website for STEM Education Data

The National Science Board has launched a new website that presents data and trends on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The new tool provides easy access to data on K-12 and undergraduate STEM education for parents, students, teachers, and other stakeholders. The site uses data from the latest volume of Science and Engineering Indicators and allows the user to explore trends in state spending on education, student proficiency in STEM subjects, the outlook for science and engineering jobs, and other topics. Access the STEM Education Data and Trends website at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool/.

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AIBS Congressional Testimony Supports NSF FY 2012 Budget Request

On 15 April 2011, the American Institute of Biological Sciences provided testimony to the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies in support of funding the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.767 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012. This funding level would provide a 13 percent increase for the agency over the FY 2010 budget.

“NSF is a vital engine for our nation’s continued economic growth,” AIBS said in its testimony. “The agency’s support for scientific research and education programs fosters innovation, improves science education, and maintains our scientific infrastructure.”

The statement highlighted the contributions of NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) to science, education, and research infrastructure. In addition to supporting the increase for research funding for BIO, the testimony urges Congress to support increased funding for the digitization of biological collections, the continued construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and the Graduate Research Fellowship program.

To read the entire testimony, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110415nsftestimony.html.

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Deadline Approaching: Graduate Student Policy Internship

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, DC AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program or who have completed a program within a semester of application and who are engaged in research that will contribute to the understanding and conservation of mammals. The internship is for three months during fall 2011, and carries a generous monthly stipend. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in the public policy process, strong communications skills, and excellent academic record. The deadline to apply is 1 May 2011. For details and requirements, download the program flyer at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/ASM-AIBS-Internship-2011.pdf.

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Now in BioScience: "Synthetic Biology Promises Risk and Reward"

The emerging field of synthetic biology may help to solve societal problems—or it may create new ones. The potential risks and rewards of synthetic biology are evaluated in the Washington Watch column in the April 2011 issue of BioScience. An excerpt from the article, “Synthetic Biology Promises Risk and Reward,” follows:

In May 2010, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced the creation of the world’s first synthetic organism—a bacterial host cell whose self-replicating genome was human-made. This momentous achievement raises questions regarding the potential risks and benefits of synthesizing genomes, and eventually, organisms.

According to proponents, synthetic biology offers great promise. Some scientists suggest that the emerging field could lead to advancements in individualized medicine, more efficient vaccine and drug production, new renewable energy sources, higher-yielding and more sustainable crops, and organisms that can remediate harmful chemicals in the environment. Synthetic biology is also widely acknowledged to have the potential to adversely affect human health, the environment, and national security.

To read the entire article for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2011_04.html.

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Short Takes

  • The Tennessee Senate has stalled its consideration of legislation that would promote the teaching of 'controversial' subjects such as evolution. The bill's sponsor, Senator Bo Watson, delayed committee action on the legislation (SB 893) because of concern from faculty at the University of Tennessee. The delay makes it unlikely that the bill will become law this year, despite the passage of a similar measure by the Tennessee House of Representatives earlier this month.

  • The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Research Board has announced the availability of a minimum of $37.5 million per year to establish four to eight Research Consortia to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident on the Gulf of Mexico. The research that will be conducted through these consortia will inform the scientific understanding of oil spill and dispersant impacts on ocean and coastal systems in the Gulf region, as well as other ocean and coastal systems, and how these systems respond to oil and gas inputs, especially large accidental inputs. The grant application guidance and requirements, along with the research themes that will be funded, are described in the request for proposals at http://griresearchboard.org/rfp/RFP-I.html.

  • A new report released by the National Research Council (NRC) highlights the need for strategic investment in new technology and infrastructure to better understand oceans. "Critical Infrastructure for Ocean Research and Societal Needs in 2030" considers the current state of research infrastructure and looks ahead to the research areas that will inform societal problems in the coming decades. To read the report, visit http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13081.

  • A new interactive map released by the United States Geological Survey shows the risk for human impacts to streams across the country. The map is based upon a recent report by the National Fish Habitat Board, which found that more than a quarter of all streams in the U.S. are at high or very high risk of habitat degradation. To view the map, visit http://www.nbii.gov/far/nfhap/.
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2011 AIBS Congressional Directory: Now Available in AIBS Webstore

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that copies of the AIBS guide to the 112th Congress are now available in the AIBS Webstore for only $19.95 per copy. There is a limited supply of this handy resource, so please order your copy today. To learn more about this or other publications available through AIBS, please visit http://webstore.aibs.org/category/35373945661/1/Books.htm.

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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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