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Public Policy Report for 8 April 2013

President Obama Announces Brain Research Initiative

On 2 April 2013, President Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The $100 million effort promises to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. The initiative aims to “help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury,” according to the White House.

The Obama Administration previously identified better understanding of the brain as a “grand challenge.”

The initiative will be supported by funding from three federal agencies starting in fiscal year 2014, which begins on 1 October 2013. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will provide approximately $40 million next year for the development of new tools, training opportunities, and other resources. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will invest $50 million in programs to understand the “dynamic functions of the brain” and create “breakthrough applications based on these insights.” The National Science Foundation will contribute about $20 million for interdisciplinary research.

Additionally, public-private partnerships will be formed. Contributions from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Kavli Foundation, and Salk Institute for Biological Studies total about $122 million a year.

The scientific goals for NIH’s part of the research will be defined by a new working group. The President also directed his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to explore the ethical, legal, and societal implications of neuroscience research.

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Federal Employees Informed of Unpaid Furloughs

Many federal workers will be required to take unpaid leave as a result of budget sequestration. The $85 billion in budget cuts that took effect in March leave agencies with fewer resources to serve their missions. Even with reductions in travel, training, and supplies, some agencies were not able to cut spending enough to avoid employee furloughs.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most employees will be required to take off four days between 21 April and 15 June. If Congress does not address the sequester or the EPA is unable to cut its budget enough in other ways, employees may have to take furlough days on 5 July and 30 August—both holiday weekends—as well as seven additional days before October. The anticipated savings from furlough days is expected to cover about 20 percent of the $425 million the EPA must cut from its budget this year. The remaining savings will come from reduced spending on grants, travel, and contracts.

The United State Geological Survey told workers to expect no more than 9 furlough days, but the number could be lower if the agency can find additional savings. The agency plans to address the $61 million shortfall under sequestration by freezing hiring, reducing contracts and procurements, eliminating training, and scaling back travel.

Employees at the White House Office of Management and Budget will be required to take 10 furlough days this fiscal year. This works out to one unpaid day each pay period from April to September.

Civilian employees at the Defense Department will be furloughed for 14 days, down from a previous estimate of 22 days.

Other agencies do not plan on forcing workers to take unpaid leave. The National Park Service does not anticipate furloughs unless other cost-savings measures fail. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution does not plan to furlough employees.

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Action Alert: Support Needed for Climate Science Centers

United States Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has written a letter to House appropriators urging support for the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers. The letter requests that the centers be funded with at least $25.5 million in fiscal year 2014, the same level of funding as in 2013. Representative DeFazio is asking other members of the House of Representatives to join him in signing this letter.

The eight Climate Science Centers conduct research that is used to make management decisions in response to climate change. The centers provide scientific information and tools that policymakers, resource managers, and other parties use to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to the adverse impacts that climate change has on our natural and cultural resources at the regional and local levels.

Interior’s Climate Science Centers benefit all regions of the United States. There is one federally funded Climate Science Center supported by universities and partners in each region of the country: the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the North Central U.S., the South Central U.S., the Northeast, the Southeast, Alaska, and Hawaii. Eight regional centers mean that each geographic area of the country benefits from research focused on that region’s unique climate change issues.

Send a letter to your Representative today in support of climate science at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62568231.

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Obama Administration Unveils Plans for Climate Change and Natural Resources

Two recent reports released by the Obama administration outline the need for U.S. action on climate change. A team of 90 officials released the “National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy,” while the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report that addresses climate mitigation and adaptation.

The Climate Adaptation Strategy, developed by federal agencies and state and tribal governments, marks “the beginning of a significant and collective effort to take effective action to reduce risks and to increase the resiliency of our valuable natural resources,” according to the report. The adaptation strategy describes the observed and expected impacts of climate change on the environment. “Even if further GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions were halted today, alterations already underway in the Earth’s climate will last for hundreds or thousands of years… with accompanying major changes in extreme weather events, variable and/or inconsistent weather patterns, sea level rise, and changing ocean conditions including increased acidification,” the report states.

The report also presents goals for natural resource managers, which include promoting habitat conservation, protecting ecosystem function, coordinating information systems, filling in knowledge gaps, educating the public, and reducing non-climate stressors. Developed over the last four years as a “key part of the nation’s larger response to climate change,” the report contains “the most strongly worded language on climate change the U.S. government has written,” according to Noah Matson, vice president of climate change adaptation for Defenders of Wildlife.

The report offers a strong warning: “Admittedly, the task ahead is a daunting one, especially if the world fails to make serious efforts to reduce emissions of GHGs. But we can make a difference. To do that, we must begin now to prepare for a future unlike the recent past.”

The PCAST report, released 22 March, details a six-point strategy to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change. The report says, “mitigation is needed to avoid a degree of climate change that would be unmanageable despite efforts to adapt. Adaptation is needed because the climate is already changing and some further change is inevitable regardless of what is done to reduce its pace and magnitude.” Recommendations include decarbonizing the economy, promoting clean energy technology through leveling the playing field and sustaining research, and establishing the U.S. as an international leader in climate change.

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New Regulation Will Better Protect U.S. Waters from Invasive Species

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a permit that will regulate discharges from commercial ships. The new permit could help to protect the nation’s waters from invasive species carried in ballast water. The permit includes a more stringent standard than current regulation for the number of invasive species in ballast water. Ships that operate in the Great Lakes will also be required to take additional precautions to reduce the risk of introducing new invasive species.

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Short Takes

  • The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative has announced the timeline for future research funding on the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In mid-November 2013, a request for proposals for research consortia will be released. Learn more at http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/2013/save-the-date-gomri-rfp-for-2015-2017-research-consortia/.

  • The National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are offering $10,000 for ideas from researchers in the agricultural sciences about the most pressing issues facing smallholder farmers in the developing world. Up to 25 winners will be selected for their 100 word entry. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/bio/bread/index.jsp.

  • The United States Geological Survey is making progress towards the development of a national water census. The effort will eventually provide online access to real-time flow data for waterways in 103,000 watersheds nationwide.

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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 Entomological Society of America, 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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