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Public Policy Report for 9 October 2012

Senate Bill Would Boost Funding for Some Environmental Science

Despite the uncertainty associated with the forthcoming budget sequestration, currently set to begin in January 2013, the House and Senate continue to draft appropriations bills that would allocate fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding for federal agencies. Recently, the Senate Subcommittee on Interior and Environment Appropriations released a spending plan that could restore funding cuts proposed in the current House bill.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $1.08 billion, an increase of $15.8 million relative to FY 2012. This is $117 million more than the current House level. Funding for the Ecosystems activity would increase by 5.8 percent; this would benefit USGS research on fisheries, wildlife, ecosystems, and invasive species. Conversely, the House plan would cut funding for Ecosystems by 17.8 percent. USGS research on climate change and carbon sequestration would receive a 2.3 percent increase in the Senate plan.

The current Senate plan also proposes to cut the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget by 4.6 percent, to $1.5 billion. Despite a proposed top-line reduction, the agency would receive increased funding for land acquisition and endangered species management. The House bill would cut $317 million from the agency’s budget.

Science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would receive about 0.6 percent more funding. This is $60.4 million more than the current level being proposed in the House of Representatives. Water research would receive an additional $1.2 million under the Senate bill, but environmental and human health research at EPA would fall by $4.1 million.

The Senate appropriations panel also proposes a 1 percent or $297.8 million increase for the United States Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research program. All of the increase would be directed to forest inventory and analysis, whereas research and development would continue to be funded at the FY 2012 level. The program would be subject to a 16 percent cut under the current House legislation.

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NSB Report Calls Attention to Declining State Funds for Public Research Universities

Declines in state funding for public research universities threatens to impair their ability to provide affordable education for new scientists and engineers, and to recruit top faculty and staff to perform high-quality research, according to a report released by the National Science Board (NSB)—the advisory body for the National Science Foundation.

The report was an expansion on the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, which examined 101 public research universities that were among the top recipients of academic research and development funding. Those universities award more than half of U.S. doctoral and a third of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, in addition to performing a substantial portion of basic research in those fields (greater than 50 percent in 2009). Those institutions also face declining state funding and rising college attendance.

State funding on a per-student basis at 101 major public research universities declined on average by 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2010, with some declines as high as 48 percent. Over the same time period, enrollment grew nationally by 13 percent. The decrease in state funding in conjunction with rising college attendance has resulted in public universities increasing student tuition in order to minimize the impact of funding cuts on research and teaching facilities. Between 1999 and 2009, revenue from tuition increased by 50 percent at public research universities.

The rising cost of education could have resounding consequences. According to a report by the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities, of the million minorities enrolled in research universities, 80 percent attend public institutions. José-Marie Griffiths, former NSB member and vice president for Academic Affairs at Bryant University, expressed concern over this trend: “[cuts and tuition hikes] could hinder large populations of students with limited financial means from pursuing science and engineering education at world-class institutions. We need the talent of all students from all backgrounds, and we need it nationwide.”

The NSB report additionally warned of a widening gap between public and private research universities, particularly in spending per full-time student and faculty salaries, both of which have grown much faster at private research universities.

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EPA Launches Eco-Health Relationship Browser

The public can now easily explore the benefits provided by ecosystem services to people and communities. The Eco-Health Relationship Browser, launched by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a new online tool that illustrates the linkages between human health and ecosystem services. The benefits of ecosystem services are summarized from over 300 peer-reviewed papers. Access the Eco-Health Relationship Browser at http://www.epa.gov/research/healthscience/browser/introduction.html.

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Short Takes

  • Federal employees may support the scientific programs and services of the American Institute of Biological Sciences via the 2012 Combined Federal Campaign. AIBS is CFC # 69973.

  • A bill introduced in the House of Representatives would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) receives scientific advice from its advisory board. According to the legislation's four Republican sponsors, all of whom serve on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, HR 6564 would strengthen public participation, require communication of uncertainties in scientific findings, and make the views of dissenting board members known. The bill would also limit the Science Advisory Board's ability to give "non-scientific policy advice" and would require board members to disclose financial ties, such as grants they received from the EPA.

  • The National Science Foundation has put out a call for interdisciplinary research across its Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE). Researchers are encouraged to submit proposals that span the social sciences or extend outside the SBE sciences. Examples of interdisciplinary fields of research include population change, language and cognition, and social network analysis. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12123/nsf12123.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click.

  • The Department of the Interior is seeking nominations for the newly established Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The Committee will provide advice on matters and actions relating to the establishment and operations of the U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the DOI Climate Science Centers. For more information, visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-10-04/html/2012-24478.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! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html)

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. These exciting new advocacy tools 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, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates 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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