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Public Policy Report for 14 July 2014

House Approves Energy R&D Funding Bill

On 10 July, the House of Representatives approved legislation to provide $34 billion in funding in fiscal year 2015 for energy and water programs. H.R. 4923 passed with the support of 253 Representatives, with 170 lawmakers voting against the bill. The vote was largely, but not entirely, along party lines.

The bill would provide $5.07 billion in funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science. This is the same amount as the current funding level. The House plan would increase funding for advanced scientific computing, nuclear physics, and fusion research, but the Biological and Environmental Research program would lose $70.2 million (-11.5 percent).

During floor debate on the measure, Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) offered an amendment to increase funding for the National Undergraduate Fellowship Program by $300,000. The program supports research fellowships in physics for undergraduate students. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.

Funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy increased by $20 million as a result of an amendment offered by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). It passed by a vote of 216-205.

Climate change, a topic that is a perennial point of contention, was also the subject for floor debate. Representative David McKinley (R-WV) sponsored an amendment to prohibit funding for the National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and other climate-related initiatives.

To date, the House has passed six of 12 appropriations bills. Due to a disagreement between the parties on how to handle amendments, the Senate has not debated any spending measures since mid-June.

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House Bill Would Cut Funding for EPA, Maintain Interior

A House Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a bill to fund the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forest Service, and Smithsonian Institution in fiscal year 2015.

“The Interior and Environment bill provides the agencies within its jurisdiction with the resources necessary to carry out their mission in times that are fiscally challenging,” said Interior Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert. “This bill also protects Americans from the onslaught of job-killing regulations coming from the EPA, and makes difficult decisions to carefully balance national priorities. I am pleased that our Subcommittee continues to place an emphasis on producing energy on federal lands, providing robust funding for our wildland fire accounts, and addressing a variety of health, education, and safety needs within Indian Country.”

Funding for the EPA would be slashed by 9 percent. This is $717 million less than the current amount. The agency’s workforce would decline to 15,000, the lowest level since 1989. In addition, a 50 percent reduction is proposed for the Administrator’s office and other executive offices. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said the EPA is being “severely punished” to send a message to other agencies that appropriators will not tolerate withholding or delaying spending information.

The Forest Service would receive new funding, largely for wildfire prevention and suppression.

Many bureaus within the Department of the Interior would see little change in their budgets. The National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service would be essentially flat funded. The U.S. Geological Survey would receive a $4 million increase for a total of $1 billion in fiscal year 2015.

The Smithsonian Institution, which is mostly supported by the federal government, would receive an $8 million increase.

The bill includes a number of policy riders that would impede the executive branch’s ability to implement rules, including the regulation of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants.

The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to debate the bill this week.

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NAS Report on Future of Scientific Research Released as Congressional Budget Battles Continue

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) entitled Furthering America’s Research Enterprise explores ways of “keeping the nation in the forefront of the global competition for new technologies and other innovations” during a time of economic belt-tightening. Congress expressed particular interest in ways to improve conversion of federally funded research into commercial products and services.

The study, which was requested by Congress in the America COMPETES Act, notes that an understanding of the whole research enterprise is necessary to avoid harmful effects of attempting narrow revisions. With that caveat, the report finds that “societal benefits from federal research can be enhanced by focusing attention on three crucial pillars of the research system: a talented and interconnected workforce, adequate and dependable resources, and world-class basic research in all major areas of science.”

Expounding on those key points, the report highlights the need for stable funding for scientific research, arguing that predictability is a key factor in encouraging students to pursue scientific careers and attracting the best talent from overseas. Emphasizing the need for broad-scale basic research, the report finds that “truly transformative scientific discoveries often depend on research in a variety of fields.” On this portion, the report is a counter point to recent calls from several conservative lawmakers who have taken aim at portions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, particularly the allotments for social science and climate change research.

Despite these attacks, the report comes out as the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees responsible for the NSF budget approved funding greater than requested by the President. In a recent hearing, House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) remarked “the subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research.” It is a sentiment that many in the scientific community hope will remain after Representative Wolf’s retirement at the end of this term.

A pre-publication version of the final report can be found at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18804.

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AIBS Past President Paul Risser Passes Away

Paul Gillan Risser, 74, of Norman, Oklahoma, died on Thursday 10 July 2014.

Born on 14 September 1939, Risser earned his BA from Grinnell College and his graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin.

Throughout his career, Risser served as a faculty member in the Department of Botany at the University of Oklahoma, Chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey, Provost and Vice President for Research at the University of New Mexico, President of Miami University in Ohio, President of Oregon State University, Chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, Acting Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Chair and Chief Operating Officer of the University of Oklahoma Research Cabinet.

An active leader in the scientific community, in 1991 Risser served as President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

“Dr. Risser was a gracious man and generous with his time. All of us at AIBS certainly appreciate all of the time and energy he dedicated to AIBS and to advancing science. He was a true leader of our community and he will be missed. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family and friends,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.

“I was privileged to work with Paul during his tenure as president of Oregon State University. He was a great ecologist contributed significantly to science, whether working with students, leading universities, or contributing to national research institutions and initiatives. He will be missed,” said AIBS board member Dr. Susan Stafford.

Risser also served as President of the Ecological Society of America, President of the Association of Southwestern Naturalists, and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. At the time of his death, he was serving as a member of the Board of Trustees at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of Grinnell College, and the chairman of Oklahoma’s P-20 Council.

In celebration of his life and recognition of his unwavering commitment to education, the family suggests contributions to the Paul G. Risser Scholarship Fund at the University of Oklahoma. Checks may be written to the University of Oklahoma Foundation, 100 Timberdell Road, Norman, OK 73019.

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House Subcommittee Eyes Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Invasive Species

On 9 July 2014, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on H.R. 3994, “Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act.” The proposed legislation would mandate that 75 percent of funding for invasive species be allocated for control and management, while limiting the amount used for research, education, and administration. It would also set a goal of reducing invasive species populations on public lands by 5 percent each year.

Witnesses testifying before the panel were Lori Williams, Executive Director of the National Invasive Species Council; Mary Wagner, Associate Chief of the US Forest Service; and George Beck of the Healthy Habitats Coalition.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated that “even though we appropriate substantial funds for eradication, the status quo simply is not working.” In response, Beck said that the proposed law would be a “fiscal paradigm shift” that could solve the problem of “insufficient funds finding their way out to the hinterlands.” Beck felt that a large portion of the appropriated budget was sidetracked into administrative and other funds, never reaching the areas where it was needed most.

In contrast, Williams argued that the bill, by setting strict guidelines on the percent of funds that could be used in certain areas “could reduce flexibility from federal program and land managers to craft solutions to their site specific problems.”

Wagner said that the bill “affirms, backs, and supports many local efforts” at reducing invasive species populations. She said that the Forest Service already prioritized working with local groups on this issue, and that this bill would enhance those partnerships. Wagner did express concerns though that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exemptions allowed by the bill were “overly broad.” The bill allows for the environmental assessments required by NEPA to be waived in “prioritized, high risk areas.”

Rep. Bishop introduced H.R. 3994 in February 2014. The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Horsford (D-NV) and Pearce (R-NM).

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University of California Announces Creation of Global Food Initiative

University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano announced the creation of the UC Global Food Initiative. Napolitano, the former Secretary of Homeland Security and Governor of Arizona, says the program is “an example of how a great research university can take on one of the world’s great problems.”

The initiative will engage all 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which the university manages. The goal of the program is to tackle the problem of “how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.” Although many program details are unclear, all UC campuses are expected to play a role, dependent on their area of faculty expertise. To that end, the Office of the President is funding three undergraduate or graduate student research fellows at each UC campus to work on projects related to the initiative.

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Opportunities to Serve on Federal Advisory Boards

The newly redesigned AIBS Legislative Action Center features opportunities for scientists to serve on federal advisory committees. Nominations are currently sought for experts in microbiology, climate change, agriculture, and air pollution. Opportunities posted on the website are updated on a weekly basis. Learn more at http://policy.aibs.org/action.

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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.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

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 policy.aibs.org to get started.

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