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Public Policy Report for 28 January 2013

President Obama Plans to Combat Climate Change in Second Term

President Obama plans to make climate change a more prominent issue in his policy agenda for the next four years. During his inaugural address last week, the president pledged to address climate change.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” said the president. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”

Although the White House has yet to release any specific details of its plans, the administration seems inclined to pursue actions through executive authority, rather than relying on Congress to enact new legislation. One likely action is the finalization of carbon-cutting regulations for new power plants. Environmentalists are also calling on the president to reject the northern stretch of the Keystone XL pipeline.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have launched a new task force to address climate change. The group plans to weigh in on how the president can use his existing authority to tackle climate issues. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) founded the group. The lawmakers have written to President Obama to call for the development of a specific plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions through new regulations, increased investments in efficiency and alternative energy, and international agreements to cut emissions of black carbon and methane.

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Freshmen Lawmakers to Serve on Science Committees

The start of each new Congress reliably brings changes to the membership of the nearly 50 committees created by lawmakers. With the start of the 113th Congress, some panels with jurisdiction over science and environmental issues have announced that freshmen lawmakers will join their ranks.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will welcome fourteen new members of Congress. The committee experienced large turnover with the last election due to retirements and the defeat of several members who served on the panel. New lawmakers joining the committee include Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Mark Takano (D-CA), Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Randy Weber (R-TX). Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), an incoming freshman, will lead the Technology Subcommittee. Another freshman, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) will be the top ranking Democrat on the Energy Subcommittee.

The House panel with jurisdiction over agricultural research will be comprised of a majority of freshmen. The following Representatives are joining the Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee: Chris Collins (R-NY), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Ted Yoho (R-FL). In addition, the subcommittee will have new leadership from Chairman Austin Scott (R-GA) and Ranking Member Kurt Schrader (D-OR), both of whom served on the Agriculture Committee in the last Congress.

Nearly a third of the members of the House Natural Resources Committee are new to Congress: Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joe Garcia (D-FL), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), and Chris Stewart (R-UT).

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over basic research, space, and oceans, will be joined by new Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Tim Scott (R-SC).

Only one freshman will join the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). That committee oversees the Environmental Protection Agency.

No first-term lawmakers joined the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for the Departments of Energy and the Interior. Similarly, no incoming Representatives earned a coveted spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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Secretary Salazar to Leave Department of the Interior

Ken Salazar has announced his plans to leave his position as Secretary of the Interior at the end of March. He plans to return to Colorado to spend time with his family. Salazar is the latest in a growing list of vacancies in President Obama’s cabinet. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson also plans to leave her post, as will as a number of other top officials with responsibility for major scientific programs, including the heads of the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Over 300 Schools Teaching Creationism on the Taxpayer's Dime

Despite a ban on teaching creationism in public schools, some private schools that receive funding through school voucher programs are teaching religious doctrine in science class. Nineteen-year-old activist Zach Kopplin has uncovered 310 such schools that have received tens of millions of dollars from school vouchers. The schools are located in nine states: Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. For instance, Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Indiana takes students on field trips to the Creation Museum. Another school, Mansfield Christian School in Ohio, uses the creationist website Answers in Genesis to teach science. A full list of the schools is available at http://creationistvouchers.com/.

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NIH Council Advises Retirement of Nearly All Research Chimps

A new report calls for the federal government to retire nearly all of the 451 chimpanzees owned or supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH Council of Councils has approved a report that recommends permanently retiring most of the chimps from research. Instead, the animals should be moved to sanctuaries.

The recommendations include plans for retaining a colony of about 50 chimps that would be kept in case new research is needed. Decisions about when to use the remaining animals in research studies would require the approval of an independent committee. The report also recommends new standards for housing research chimps, including maintaining the animals in groups of at least seven individuals and providing access to the outdoors year-round.

NIH announced in December 2012 that it would retire over one hundred chimpanzees that were formerly used in biomedical research studies. Those animals will be sent to the Chimp Haven federal sanctuary.

The council’s recommendations will be open to public comment, after which the NIH will decide on whether or not to implement them.

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AIBS Public Policy Office 2012 Annual Report Now Available

Despite a daunting political and policy environment, the AIBS Public Policy Office aggressively and successfully advanced the interests of the biological sciences community last year. Learn about our activities and accomplishments in 2012 and find out how you can participate in the future.

A few key accomplishments from 2012:

  • Rallied the scientific community in opposition to federal budget sequestration.
  • Convened a workshop and facilitated the development of the Implementation Plan for a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance.
  • Testified before Congress on the importance of federal funding for the US Geological Survey.
  • Facilitated the participation of scientists with lawmakers in Washington, DC, through the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition’s (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, and around the nation through the 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.
  • Organized three science policy briefings on Capitol Hill.
  • Influenced the development of sound scientific integrity policies at the National Science Foundation and National Park Service.
  • Trained scientists and students on how to effectively communicate with decision makers and the news media.

To download the report, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/aibspublicpolicyoffice2012annualreportnowavailable.html#032833.

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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, Association for the Sciences of 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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