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AIBS Public Policy Report for 4/26/04

  • ACTION ALERT: Letter to increase funding for the National Science Foundation circulating in the U.S. House. Your help needed!
  • Warning--Alabama legislators are at it again: legislation would allow teaching alternative theories of evolution
  • House of Representatives passes science education and green chemistry legislation
  • EPA Science Advisory Board: call for nominations and recent workshop

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).

All material from these reports may be reproduced or forwarded. Please mention AIBS as the source; office staff appreciate receiving copies of materials used. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp [publ...@aibs.org; 202-628-1500 x250].


ACTION ALERT: NSF 'DEAR COLLEAGUE' LETTER CIRCULATING IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Each year during the appropriations cycle, members of Congress circulate what are known as "Dear Colleague" letters. In these letters, multiple members of Congress sign a letter to a committee chair regarding an item or bill under his/her jurisdiction. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) has once again initiated a "Dear Colleague" letter to the chairs of the House Appropriations subcommittee handling NSF. The letter requests a large increase for NSF funding. Last year, 155 members of Congress signed the letter. Rep. Ehlers would like to have more signatures this year. A large number of signatures by members of Congress demonstrates broad support for increased funding for NSF, making it easier for Reps. Mollohan and Walsh to justify providing large increases for the agency. The budget for this year is extremely tight, and NSF is up against programs, such as Veteran's Affairs, which have very broad support. If the NSF letter has fewer signatures this year than it did last year, it sends a message to the appropriators that members of Congress feel that funding for scientific research is not as important in tight fiscal years.

Background:
The Ehlers letter urges the chair and ranking member of the VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittee to grant NSF as large an increase as possible over the President's request for FY05. The President's request for this year is $5.7 billion - $1.7 billion less than what Congress authorized for NSF in FY05 in the 2002 reauthorization bill. If the President's request is approved, NSF will receive only a slight increase (3%), with some research directorates, including the Biological Sciences Directorate, barely keeping pace with inflation.

What you can do:
Contact your Representative in the House to request that they sign on to the "Ehlers NSF Dear Colleague". (Note that there is no letter like this circulating in the Senate, so you do not need to contact them at this time). The letter is posted at www.aibs.org/about-aibs/040507_action_alert_letter_to.html

The most effective way of doing this is to place a phone call to your member's D.C. office and request to speak to the "Science or Technology Legislative Assistant". Encourage the staff to have their boss (your Rep.) sign on to the letter. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MENTION HOW MUCH NSF FUNDING MEANS TO THE DISTRICT AT THIS POINT.

For your convenience, we have summarized the NSF funding information for the top 100 academic institutions (posted at www.aibs.org/about-aibs/040507_action_alert_letter_to.html). The chart contains the following information that you will need: a total funding amount, the amount received from the BIO Directorate, and the name of the Representative for that institution. If your institution is not included in the top 100, you can get the information from the NSF website at //dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/starth.asp. Be prepared to FAX or email them a copy of the Ehlers letters (also available at// www.aibs.org). They should already have a copy, but with the volume of mail they receive, things get lost very quickly.

The letter is open for signatures through early May. Contact Adrienne Froelich, AIBS Director of Public Policy (afroelich@aibs.org), if you have questions or would like assistance. The original letter from Rep. Ehlers, a spreadsheet of the members who have signed this year, as well as the list of those who signed last year are available on the AIBS website at www.aibs.org/about-aibs/040507_action_alert_letter_to.html. Contact information for your Representative can be found at// www.house.gov.

WARNING-ALABAMA LEGISLATORS ARE AT IT AGAIN: LEGISLATION WOULD ALLOW TEACHING ALTERNATIVE THEORIES OF EVOLUTION

Some anti-evolution activists are employing new tactics in their effort to secure legal authority to introduce "alternative theories" of evolution into public education curricula. Advocates in Alabama have moved beyond textbook disclaimers and are now pushing legislation, SB 336, the "Academic Freedom Act." The Alabama state Senate passed SB 336 by a vote of 28-0 on 8 April 2004. According to the National Center for Science Education, the legislation would give teachers at public institutions "the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific, historical, theoretical, or evidentiary information pertaining to alternative theories or points of view on the subject of origins" and students the right to hold a "particular position on origins, so long as he or she demonstrates acceptable understanding of course materials." Prior to passage, SB 336 was amended to also include a section reading, "The rights and privileges contained in this act do not apply to the presentation of theoretical information unless it is accompanied by scientific, historical, or evidentiary information." Reports from Alabama Senate Education Committee hearings held in March and Alabama House Education Committee hearings on similar legislation, HB 391, clearly indicate that the intent of the legislation is to protect the teaching of creationism, according to Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education. Many Alabamans are concerned with this latest threat to science education. A new group, Alabama Citizens for Science Education (www.alscience.org) has formed to promote the best possible science education in Alabama public schools. ACSE is now working to educate members of the Alabama state House about the nature of science and educational concerns about SB 336 and HB 391 in hopes of preventing House passage of these or other anti-science bills. Detailed legal and educational analyses of SB 336 and HB 391 are available on the ACSE website. Scientists and educators in Alabama are encouraged to contact ACSE to learn more and for information about contacting your member of the State House.


HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES SCIENCE EDUCATION AND GREEN CHEMISTRY LEGISLATION

By wide bipartisan majorities, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved two pieces of science legislation. On 21 April 2004, the House passed HR 4030, legislation sponsored by Representative Nick Smith (R-MI, 7th) that would establish the "Congressional Medal for Outstanding Contributions in Math and Science Education." The new program would recognize private entities for outstanding contributions to elementary and secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The new program would be administered by the National Science Foundation. The program, which would be implemented two years after HR 4030 is signed into law, would have the Director of the NSF annually name as finalists for medals not more than 20 private entities with more than 500 employees, and not more than 20 private entities with 500 or fewer employees. From among these finalists, 5 medal recipients would be named from the more than 500 employee and 5 recipients would be named from the fewer than 500 employee categories. To be eligible for the medal, entities must meet two criteria. First, "whether working alone or in partnership with for-profit or nonprofit entities, assisted students, teachers, administrators, or other support staff to improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a school or community." Second, the entity must "have been involved in such activities in a sustained manner for at least 2 years with at least one elementary or secondary school." HR 4030 has been sent to the U.S. Senate for their consideration.

The legislation currently awaits action by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The House of Representatives has also approved HR 3970, the "Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2004." This legislation, introduced by Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA, 11th), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, 30th), and Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI, 3rd), would provide for the implementation of a green chemistry research and development program. As defined by the legislation, green chemistry is "chemistry and chemical engineering to design chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances." Generally, the legislation directs the President to establish a "Green Chemistry Research and Development Program to promote and coordinate Federal green chemistry research, development, demonstration, education, and technology transfer activities." The program would establish a federal interagency workgroup to coordinate federal activities, establish priorities and disseminate information. Additionally, the legislation would establish new green chemistry grant programs for individual investigators, collaborative research groups, and others. The legislation authorizes NSF to spend $7 million in fiscal year 2005, $7.5 million in fiscal year 2006 and $8 million in fiscal year 2008. The National Institute for Standards and Technology would be authorized to spend $5 million in FY 2005, the Department of Energy would be authorized to spend $7 million in FY 2005, and the Environmental Protection Agency would be authorized to spend $7 million in 2005.

A concern expressed by some members of Congress, as evidenced by unsuccessful amendments offered by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX, 18th) is that the legislation fails to provide funding from new appropriations. Rather, HR 3970 would require that funds be drawn form other authorized activities. HR 3970 has been sent to the Senate, where it awaits consideration by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and transportation. According to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), the prospects for Senate passage should be good. As the House vote of 402-14 indicates, there is strong bipartisan support for increasing green chemistry research.

EPA SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD: CALL FOR NOMINATIONS AND RECENT WORKSHOP

The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office is requesting nominations to add expertise to the SAB Ecological Processes and Effects Committee to review EPA's Critical Ecosystem Assessment Model (CrEAM). The CrEAM was developed to predict ecological significance at the landscape scale. The SAB Committee aims to provide EPA with comments on the scientific validity of the conceptual framework and methodology used to identify ecologically significant ecosystems and on the scientific defensibility of the results generated from CrEAM queries. To supplement expertise on the Ecological Processes and Effects Committee, the SAB Staff Office is seeking individuals who have expertise in ecology and the use of geographic information system technology to evaluate data and conduct landscape scale analyses.

Any interested person or organization may nominate individuals qualified in the areas of expertise described above to serve on the Subcommittee. Nominations should be submitted in electronic format through the Form for Nominating Individuals to Panels of the EPA Science Advisory Board provided on the SAB Web site, //www.epa.gov/sab. The deadline for nominations is May 12, 2004. Specific criteria to be used in evaluation of an individual subcommittee member include: (a) Scientific and/or technical expertise, knowledge, and experience (primary factors); (b) absence of financial conflicts of interest; (c) scientific credibility and impartiality; (d) availability and willingness to serve; and (e) ability to work constructively and effectively in committees. For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Armitage, Designated Federal Officer (DFO), via telephone/voice mail at (202) 343-9995; via e-mail at armitage.thomas@epa.gov; or at the U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board (1400F), 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20460. For the complete Federal Register listing, refer to: //a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/04-9047.htm.

The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board Committee on Valuing the Protection of Ecosystem Services met April 13-14 in Washington D.C. to continue the daunting task of developing standards to quantify ecological benefits. The Committee was established in 2003 "to assess Agency needs and the state of the art and science of valuing protection of ecological systems and services, and then to identify key areas for improving knowledge, methodologies, practice, and research." The EPA works under Executive Order that instructs the agency to assess all costs and benefits of regulations, both quantifiable and non-quantifiable measures.

The Committee heard presentations from several of its members and from scientists within EPA and outside the Agency on examples of different major science-based approaches. Each presentation was followed with discussion of applicability of the respective measure to the task at hand. Methods discussed at the workshop included: production function approach with collaboration between economists and ecologists in valuation, habitat and resource equivalency analysis, global unified metamodel of the biosphere (GUMBO), the service-to-service approach for calculating resource compensation, contingent valuation, using geographic information system to identify ecological significant areas, public value assessments, and group decision-aiding concepts.

Dr. Sharon Hayes, EPA's Water Policy Staff Director urged members to keep in mind the task that EPA has requested of the committee, bearing in mind the limitations of EPA when writing the final committee report of recommendations. The regulatory measures should be "cheap and fast," legally supportable, and based on sound and credible science.

One committee member suggested the next step for the panel be a workshop in which participating members utilize the currently available models to work on real examples. This practical type of exercise might help the committee determine which methodologies might be most useful and should be recommended by the panel for EPA use. Another member recommended that following the release of the Committee's report, EPA staff participate in summer workshops to learn how to use the methods the committee's recommends, and that the committee members participate as mentors in these trainings. The next meeting of the Committee will be June 14-15; the location has yet to be disclosed. For more information on EPA SAB activities, visit: //www.epa.gov/sab.

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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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