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Public Policy Report for 08/04/2003

  • Congress moving toward cuts in agricultural research funding
  • EPA seeks nominations for SAB committee on homeland security
  • Evolution Activists Organize to Combat Pseudoscience in Public Schools
  • Ocean Policymakers Shift Attention Upstream

The AIBS Public Policy Report is distributed broadly by email every two weeks to AIBS membership leaders and contacts, including the President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Director, AIBS Council Representative, Journal Editor, Newsletter Editor, Public Policy Committee Chair, Public Policy Representative, and Education Committee Chair of all AIBS member societies and organizations (see the Membership Directories for contact information).

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CONGRESS MOVING TOWARD CUTS IN AG RESEARCH FUNDING

Before leaving Washington, DC for the August recess, the House of Representatives adopted its version of the fiscal year 2004 agriculture appropriation legislation with a bipartisan vote of 347-64. While the House of Representatives generally funded programs above the President's budget request, intramural and extramural research funded by the USDA did not fair particularly well.

The House would fund the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's intramural research enterprise, at $1,073 million dollars, roughly $221 million below the amount appropriated in FY 03 but nearly $40 million above the President's budget request for FY 04. The cuts are substantially from reduced spending for buildings and facilities, which received additional funding in 2003 for security upgrades. However, the House also would trim roughly $32 million from salaries and expenses. The full Senate has yet to consider its legislation making appropriations for the agriculture department, but the Appropriations Committee draft legislation would provide flat funding of $1,046 million for ARS salaries and expenses. While the Senate Appropriations Committee would also cut expenditures for ARS buildings and facilities, it would provide $10 million more than the House's $36 million.

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) received $1,124 million dollars in FY 03. For FY 04, however, the House would provide $1,108 million or $96 million more than the President's request for FY 04. This increase is primarily from funds directed to the "Special Research Grants" category, which the House would fund at $101 million or $98 million above the President's request. The House would fund CSREES's "National Research Initiative", which makes competitive grant awards, at $149 million or $51 million below the President's request of $200 million. The Senate's cuts to the National Research Initiative would not be as severe as the House's, but would still fall roughly $20 million below the President's request.

When Congress returns in September, the full Senate must pass its version of the FY 04 agriculture appropriation and any differences between the House and Senate versions must be reconciled before the measure is sent to the President.


EPA SEEKS NOMINATIONS FOR SAB COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) has announced that it is accepting nominations for individuals to serve on the SAB's new Homeland Security Advisory Committee (HSAC). Nominations must be received by August 20, 2003. Nomination forms and procedures may be obtained from the SAB web site at www.epa.gov/sab.

The HSAC will provide advice through the SAB to the Administrator, and other officials in the EPA on matters pertaining to EPA's mission in protecting against the environmental and health consequences of terrorism. This Committee is being formed to help provide advice to the Agency, as part of the SAB's mission to provide independent scientific and technical advice, consultation, and recommendations to the EPA Administrator on the technical bases for EPA regulations. The work of this committee is expected to continue for approximately two to three years.

EPA provides support for the President's National Strategy for Homeland Security and the new Department of Homeland Security in specific areas. In keeping with EPA's traditional mission of protecting human health and the environment, the Agency's mission includes protection of the country against the environmental and health consequences of acts of terrorism. EPA is responsible for assisting public and private utilities in securing the nation's drinking and wastewater infrastructure, for assisting those responsible for indoor air, for working with the Department of Homeland Security to support the enhancement of security for our chemical industry and hazardous materials sector, and for responding to and recovering from acts of biological, chemical, certain radiological, and other terrorist attacks. For example, recently EPA has monitored environmental conditions to help protect workers in and around the World Trade Center, and developed and implemented a plan for decontaminating the Hart Senate Office Building. For more information on the EPA Homeland Security Strategic Plan, please see http://www.epa.gov/epahome/headline_100202.htm

Examples of consultations for the Committee could include the following: (1) Detection and characterization of contaminants in water and air, response and mitigation, and prevention and protection; (2) improvements to rapid risk assessment for terrorist agents such as development of information systems and tools, risk estimates and risk communication methodologies; and (3) verification of the performance of technologies that can be used to monitor and ensure the quality of the nation's drinking water supplies, and technologies for use in monitoring indoor environments.

The EPA SAB Staff Office requests nominations of individuals who are regarded as national and international level experts in homeland security to serve as Committee members. Areas of expertise sought include at least the following: (a) atmospheric sciences and air modeling; (b) engineering expertise for the design and operation of building systems for air treatment and handling; (c) engineering expertise for the design and operation of water treatment and dispersal systems; (d) analytical chemistry for chemical detection methodologies; (e) microbiology related to detection techniques for microbial pathogens; (f) expertise in inactivation and disposal techniques for bulk amounts of materials containing chemical, radiological, and biological agents; (g) radiation health; (h) toxicology; (i) clinical toxicology; (j) microbial pathology; (k) epidemiology; and (l) risk assessment.


EVOLUTION ACTIVISTS ORGANIZE TO COMBAT PSEUDOSCIENCE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The August 2003 Washington Watch column in BioScience addresses recent threats to the inclusion of evolution science in state science standards. Following is an excerpt from that column, "Evolution Activists Organize to Combat Pseudoscience in Public Schools."

As threats to evolution education continue to spread state by state across the United States, evolution advocates are beginning to organize. More than 50 science education advocates, clergy, educators, scientists, and representatives of national organizations recently attended an "activists' summit" convened by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) -- a nonprofit organization that defends the teaching of evolution -- and the University of California Museum of Paleontology. The summit gave defenders of evolution education an opportunity to share information and develop strategies to ensure that state and local areas include evolution in public science courses and state science standards. Barbara Forrest, associate professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and summit participant, said the meeting was important because it showed that "a very diverse group of people" -- hitherto neither as well organized nor as well funded as antievolution advocates -- "recognize the threat to public education" posed by proponents of intelligent design (ID).

Skip Evans, NCSE's network project director, agreed that the summit had symbolic value in countering the recent "political successes antievolution forces have achieved by advocating intelligent design rather than the discredited traditional creationism." The ID theory holds that life is too complex to have evolved without the direction of a purposeful and intelligent creator. Its proponents hope to win over moderate religious groups, elected officials, and other audiences by presenting what they call scientific "evidence" against the theory of evolution by natural selection. And indeed, they have drawn support from some people -- including some elected officials -- who otherwise might not actively oppose the theory of evolution.

To keep reading, see this article online free of charge at http://www.aibs.org/biosciencelibrary/vol53/aug03ww.html

OCEAN POLICYMAKERS SHIFT ATTENTION UPSTREAM

The July 2003 Washington Watch column in BioScience addresses ocean policy. Following is a brief excerpt from that column, "Ocean Policymakers Shift Attention Upstream."

Coastal waters are suffering from too much of a good thing. A National Research Council report recently concluded that nutrients are the largest pollution threat to the coastal waters of the United States. Nutrient over-enrichment of coastal waters (eutrophication) contributes to hypoxia and blooms of toxic algae. As these phenomena increase in their scope and frequency, Congress and others are stepping up action to get to the real source of the problem.

Nonpoint source pollution-caused in large part by urban and agricultural runoff-is not a new issue for Congress. Provisions to combat nonpoint source pollution exist in both the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act. However, progress has been "slow and difficult" because of the "diversity of diffuse sources, resistance to regulatory solutions, and the multiple pathways through which the pollutants can reach coastal and ocean environments," according to a report prepared for the Pew Oceans Commission.

To keep reading, see this article online free of charge at http://www.aibs.org/biosciencelibrary/vol53/jul03ww.html



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The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, public policy, and public outreach; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative and other support services for its member organizations.


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