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Public Policy Report for 5 December 2011

Lack of Deficit Deal Leaves Science, Environmental Programs on the Chopping Block

Federal agencies are bracing for $1.2 trillion in budget cuts after the failure of the so-called super committee to reach a deal to cut the nation’s deficit. Both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will be cut by $600 billion over the next decade, unless Congress and the President can finally reach an agreement on spending, entitlement reform, and tax policy in the coming year.

About $39 billion in reductions to discretionary programs will start three months into fiscal year 2013. The automatic cuts could be avoided if Congress develops and agrees to a different plan for achieving the $1.2 trillion in savings. But any such agreement may not completely shield federal science programs from reductions.

Some lawmakers have already begun to call for a reversal of the impending sequestration of $600 billion from defense programs. In the Senate, the effort is being led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). President Obama has threatened to veto “any effort” to end the automatic spending cuts.

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Growing Push for State Science Education Standards

A national effort to develop science curriculum standards for grades K-12 is expanding. Twenty-six states have stepped up as lead state partners to develop the Next Generation Science Standards, along with the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve. These standards would define the content and practices all students must learn in grades K-12.

Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon are the latest states to join the initiative. Twenty states had previously committed to the effort. The participating states are responsible for educating more than 50 percent of the nation’s school children.

States will develop the science standards with the help of a recent report by the National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The framework identifies the core ideas and practices in natural sciences and engineering that all students should know by the time they graduate high school. The 26 state partners will guide the standards writing process and, upon completion, consider adopting the standards in their own jurisdiction. The goal is to complete the education standards by the end of 2012.

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House Republicans Convene Second Hearing on EPA Science

The House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment recently held a second hearing to consider possible changes to the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Act (ERDA), which authorizes EPA’s Office of Research and Development. The focus of the hearing shifted, however, when some Republicans on the committee criticized EPA’s scientific integrity, as well as questioned the need for tougher air quality standards and a new study of natural gas drilling. Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) said: “Thirty years of congressional neglect and the aggressive and unjustified regulatory train wreck being pursued by this administration make the time ripe to evaluate reforms to environmental science at the agency.”

The ranking Democratic member on the panel, Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina, agreed with the intent of the meeting, noting that there is a need to update EPA’s science statute. ERDA has not been reauthorized since 1981. However, he argued that Republicans were more interested in using the hearings as “a platform for anti-regulatory talk points” rather than a serious discussion focused on gathering diverse perspectives for the agency’s science efforts.

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New Report Calls for Protection of Ecological Networks

A recent report produced by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) highlights the importance of ecological connectivity and corridors, and the threats they face from human and resource development. According to the authors, “mean species abundance” will decrease from 0.70 in 2000 to 0.63 by 2050. The United Nations Environment Programme states this decrease would be equivalent to losing all biodiversity in an area the size of the United States.

The authors stress the need for international cooperation to help effectively manage large transboundary networks for migratory species worldwide. Currently, some of the world’s largest countries are not participating in CMS, making conservation challenges difficult or ineffective.

For more information or a copy of this report, please visit http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2659&ArticleID=8952&l=en.

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Comments Sought on International Biodiversity Platform

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking input from the scientific community on the IPBES work program and operating procedures. Comments will help to shape the platform’s work to identify knowledge needed, policy support tools, and capacity building needs. Input on the rules of procedure will be used to shape the initiative’s operations.

IPBES is an international effort that aims to strengthen the interface between the scientific community and policymakers regarding biodiversity and ecosystem services. As proposed, IPBES will operate similarly to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The creation of IPBES was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. Since then, delegates from the world’s nations have met to negotiate the details of the framework for the new initiative. The international community is expected to meet again in the spring of 2012 to continue negotiations.

Comments on both draft documents are being accepted through 15 December 2012. More information is available at http://www.ipbes.net/.

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Final Strategy Released for Restoration of Gulf of Mexico

On 5 December 2011, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force unveiled its final strategy for long-term ecosystem restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. The policy outlines four major goals: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, and enhance community resilience. Scientific research is considered as the basis to inform these actions.

The Task Force was created by President Obama to address the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as decades of wetland loss, eutrophication, and harm caused by other stresses.

The final report provides details about the scientific research and monitoring that is needed. Identified needs include gap analysis and integration of environmental monitoring programs; improved data standardization, dissemination, and visualization; modeling to adjust restoration actions; identification of key determinants of ecosystem resilience; and assessing the value of ecosystem services.

Read the report at http://www.epa.gov/gulfcoasttaskforce.

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Attention Graduate Students: Applications for the 2012 EPPLA Are Now Available

Applications are now being accepted for the 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

EPPLA Winners Receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investments in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The 2012 event will last for two days and may be held between March and May. The official dates will be announced in 2012. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on federal science budgets and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • A certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

Application Process and Requirements:

The 2012 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

To apply:

Send a cover letter, statement, resume, and letter of reference to publicpolicy@aibs.org no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Friday, 20 January 2012. The subject line of the e-mail must include “EPPLA 2012” and the applicant’s name. All documents should be included as attachments, with each file named as name-document (e.g., Sarah-Smith-Resume). A single PDF document is recommended.

  • Cover letter: Describe your interest in science policy and how participation in the Congressional Visits Day will further your career goals. Confirm your ability to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in meetings.
  • Statement: In 500 words or less, articulate the importance of federal investments in fundamental biological sciences research, such as that supported by the National Science Foundation. A successful statement will communicate to a non-scientist the benefits of biological research to the United States and draw upon the applicant’s experiences and research. The statement may reference local issues and concerns that may be of interest to your Congressional delegation.
  • Resume (1 page limit): The resume should emphasize leadership, policy, and communication experience — this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities, relevant education, work experience, honors and awards, and scientific society memberships. Conference presentations and scientific manuscripts will not be considered in the evaluation of the application.
  • Letter of reference: A reference letter should be provided by an individual who can attest to your leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills, and who is familiar with your interest in or experience with science policy. The reference should send the letter to publicpolicy@aibs.org by no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Time on 20 January 2012.

Applicants will be notified by the end of February of the decision of the selection panel. Information about past EPPLA recipients is available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/studentopportunities.html. Download a copy of 2012 EPPLA announcement flyer at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EPPLA2012_Announcement.pdf. Please direct questions to publicpolicy@aibs.org.

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Short Takes

  • The National Science Foundation has launched a new online tool that enables users to access state-specific data on science and engineering indicators, such as the number of people employed in the scientific workforce and total amount of federally-supported research and development. Access the Science and Engineering State Profiles tool at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/states/.
  • In its semiannual report to Congress, the Inspector General (IG) for the National Science Foundation reported that it was unable to audit the proposal for construction of the $433.7 million National Ecological Observatory Network due to inconsistencies in the top-line figures and the supporting materials. The report recommends that NEON resubmit an adequate construction proposal. Additionally, the IG found that $76 million in unallowable contingency costs were included in the proposal. Similar criticisms have been made to other Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction projects.
  • Learn about groundbreaking oceanographic, ecological, and climate research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by tuning in to the agency's ongoing series of free webinars for the public. Upcoming webinars will address ecosystem-based fisheries management, the impacts of sea level rise on coastal marshes, and citizen science in ocean management. Learn more at http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/seminars/index.html.
  • As reported by the AP on 5 December 2011, the Siemens Foundation has selected Angela Zhang, a high school student from Cupertino, California, to receive a $100,000 scholarship. The award recognizes her research on cancer cells that drive the growth of tumors. Two students from Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, were recognized for best team research. Cassee Cain and Ziyuan Liu will share a $100,000 scholarship for their research that used an Xbox 360 gaming console to analyze the leg motions involved in walking.

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Gifts for Scientists on Your Holiday Shopping List

This holiday season give your colleagues and graduate students the gift of knowledge. Two practical publications offered by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are sure to be enjoyed by students and professionals in the scientific community.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” prepares 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. The book walks scientists step-by-step 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 AIBS guide to the 112th Congress is a useful source for information about Congress and the federal government. Learn about your members of Congress and Congressional committees with oversight on science. The guide also provides tips for communicating with Congress and information on the legislative process.

These publications, as well as other books and posters, are available at http://webstore.aibs.org.

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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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