The EPA is developing a Strategic Plan for Ecological Benefits, to be released in early 2004. Due to budget constraints and political pressures, the EPA is experiencing a steadily increasing need to be able to prove that the benefits of its actions and regulations outweigh the costs. The strategic plan will guide the agency as it develops methods to quantify and, when feasible, monetize the ecological benefits resulting from current and proposed regulationsEPA recently convened its first public meeting on the subject, during which ecologists and economists from its Committee on Valuing the Protection of Ecological Systems and Services, a branch of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, provided recommendations to the agency. The minutes of that meeting will be released next week. Stay posted for further information in the next Policy Update.


On 7 November 2003 the Texas State Board of Education voted 11 to 4 to approve 11 high school biology textbooks supported by scientists and educators for their appropriate treatment of evolution. The vote followed months of debate and an aggressive campaign by intelligent design advocates and other antievolution activists who sought to pressure the Board into approving textbooks that included commonly posed antievolution criticisms of evolution. Under the banner of "Don't Mess with Textbooks," a broad coalition of scientists, educators, authors, civil liberties advocates, and others throughout Texas aggressively worked to defend the scientific content of biology textbooks. In addition to speaking out on the editorial pages of Texas newspapers and at the Board's public hearings, evolution advocates borrowed tactics from the antievolution camp. For example, over 550 scientists representing all disciplines signed a letter urging the Board to adopt textbooks that had been reviewed and found acceptable by research scientists and educators. Earlier this year, intelligent design advocates in Texas circulated a letter signed by Texas PhD's that supported the inclusion of intelligent design in biology textbooks. Notably, a significant number of the PhD's that signed the intelligent design letter were from disciplines other than the sciences and education. The evolution education advocates' sustained effort was an important factor in the Board's decision. Reports are that the Board was under pressure from influential Texans, including the Governor, to adopt scientifically sound biology textbooks.


The United States House of Representatives has passed House Concurrent Resolution 279, recognizing the 30th anniversary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program. The resolution reaffirms Congress' commitment to support the use of science in governmental decision-making through the fellowship program. As noted by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), "This is a truly valuable educational program from the perspective of both Members of Congress and the fellows that serve in it. It gives Ph.D.-level scientists a wonderful opportunity to step out of the lab and into the political process. They get a behind the scenes look at how our laws are made by working as legislative assistants in Congressional offices" or on committee staff. Since 1973, more than 800 scientists and engineers representing the breadth of the biological, physical and social sciences, and all fields of engineering have worked on Capitol Hill as Congressional Science Fellows. While many scientists return to academic or research positions following their fellowship year, others have built new careers in public policy. A notable example is Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist and former Congressional Fellow. AIBS and several member societies have sponsored Congressional Fellows as part of the AAAS program.

The AAAS Science Policy Fellowship program is accepting applications for 2004-05. All applicants must meet three basic requirements: 1) Applicants must have a PhD or an equivalent doctoral-level degree by the application deadline (10 January 2004); 2) Applicants must be United States citizens; and 3) Federal employees are not eligible for the fellowships. Detailed information about the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Programs can be found at www.fellowships.aaas.org.


On November 3, 2003 the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued an interim rule amending the regulations governing the possession, use, and transfer of listed biological agents and toxins in order to allow for the issuance of provisional registration certificates for individuals and entities and provisional grants of access to listed biological agents and toxins for individuals. These provisional measures are designed to provide additional time for the Attorney General to complete security risk assessments for those individuals and entities for which the Attorney General has received, by November 12, 2003, all of the information required to conduct a security risk assessment. This action is necessary to ensure that research and educational programs are not disrupted. APHIS will consider comments on the interim rule that are received on or prior to January 2, 2004.

Comments should be submitted by mail or e-mail. If submitted via mail, APHIS requires four copies of your comments. Mailed comments should be sent to: Docket No. 02-088-3, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. If comments are submitted via e-mail, they should be sent to regulations@aphis.usda.gov. The content of your comments should be included in the e-mail, do not attach files to your e-mail. Your message must also include your name and address and include Docket No. 02-088-3 in the subject line of the e-mail.

Detailed information on the interim rule and the request for comment is available in the Federal Register at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2003/03-27640.htm


The November Washington Watch of BioScience is now available online:

"Since 1987, no fewer than 18 independent expert panels and 13 pieces of legislation have called for the elevation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cabinet status. Dozens of experts, including four former EPA administrators, have testified in favor of the move at congressional hearings on the issue. Every president since George H. Bush, the first to back the idea, has supported the move. Yet the United States remains one of only 10 countries, and the only major industrial power, without a cabinet-level environmental agency."

Continue reading at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2003_11.html.


- Support the AIBS Public Policy Office and gain important benefits for your society or organization. Find out how at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/funding_contributors.html

- The IBRCS NEON Coordination and Implementation Conference draft report is now open for comment from the biological community. Submit your comments and attend the 10 November 2003 conference in person, by telephone, or online. See http://ibrcs.aibs.org/NEONCoordConf/

- Announcing the BioScience Bulk-Purchase Program for Member Societies and Organizations. See http://www.aibs.org/announcements/031002_announcing_the_bioscience_bulkpurchase.html

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 and appreciation 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. Website: www.aibs.org.


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