Congress approves first continuing resolution to fund federal government
All optimistic hopes for completing the FY 2006 Budget before the 1 October deadline ended September 30, with the passage of the year's first continuing resolution. With only two appropriations bills completed (Interior and Environment, and Legislative Branch) Congress needs additional time to get through the rest of the FY 2006 spending bills. H.J.Res. 68 continues funding through November 18th for programs in the regular FY 2006 appropriations bills that have not yet been signed into law. Importantly, the continuing resolution funds agencies and activities at the lowest of three designated spending levels: the current rate (FY 2005), the House FY 2006 level, or the Senate FY 2006 mark. Importantly, the continuing resolution limits the ability of federal agencies to award new grants until a final appropriation bill is adopted. With the passage of the continuing resolution, the possibility of an omnibus spending bill at the end of this year becomes increasingly likely.
Agriculture and Defense appropriations update
With time quickly winding down for Congress to complete the FY 2006 spending bills, the Senate successfully cleared H.R. 2744, the $100.7 billion Agriculture appropriations bill on 22 September. Within the Senate's recommended funding level, the National Research Initiative would receive $190 million, $11 million more than the FY 2005 appropriation but roughly $60 million below the administration's budget request for FY 06. The Senate joined the House in rejecting the President's request to dramatically cut funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, instead providing $820 million for the program that funds soil surveys, plant materials centers, and conservation technical assistance. In addition, the Senate numbers include $598,000 for the Office of the Under Secretary for Research, Education, Economics that funds the Agriculture Research Service and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. The bill now heads to a House-Senate conference committee.
In other appropriations news, on 7 October the Senate cleared H.R. 2863, making appropriations for the Department of Defense. During debate on the $445.5 billion spending package, basic research received a boost in funding with an amendment sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The Kennedy-Collins amendment provided an additional $40 million for Defense basic research, including $30 million for the Navy, Army, and Air Force research programs. Language was also included that expressed the sense of Senate that it should be "a goal of the Department of Defense to allocate to basic research programs each fiscal year an amount equal to 15 percent of the funds availableSumfor science and technology."
AIBS and BSCS Release Evolution Book and Video
The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study is now taking orders for the BSCS/AIBS video, Evolution-Why Bother?, and for the BSCS/AIBS book, Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation, which is based on the symposium of the same name that AIBS and BSCS held at the 2004 annual convention of the National Association of Biology Teachers (Chicago, November 2004).
Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation presents the proceedings of the symposium, which featured 17 speakers and five panel sessions.
To complement the proceedings of the symposium, BSCS has developed an activity book for teachers. This book, which includes materials for both teachers and students, is a collection of classic BSCS activities on evolution and is organized around the five themes of the symposium. The materials make reference to the resources available in the proceedings book as they relate to each activity. A CD of the proceedings is included with this book.
The video, Evolution-Why Bother?, contains interviews with scientists and teachers to enhance students', teachers', and the general public's understanding of the relevance of evolution to daily life. An understanding of the Tree of Life and methods of phylogenetic analysis, for example, contributes to improving human health, from identifying emerging diseases and the origins of pathogens to understanding the geographic history of diseases and their vectors. The video is available in both DVD and VHS format and is produced in collaboration with Why Bother Films (Boulder, CO).
See the BSCS website (http://www.bscs.org/page.asp?pageid=0|31|53|363&id=0|evolution_programs) for ordering information.
Senate committee approves USFWS, EPA nominees
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved the confirmation of five nominees including two for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a single, en bloc vote. Both nominees must now be approved by the whole Senate to be officially confirmed. During the hearing on October 6, H. Dale Hall was approved as Director of the USFWS. Hall has been criticized by Democrats and environmental organizations concerned with his track record on endangered species. In a September 15th letter to Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member James Jeffords (I-VT) and three environmental groups asked Congress to reject Hall's nomination. For details on Hall, please see the September 26, 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_09_26.html.
At the same hearing, George M. Gray, Ph.D. was approved as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. Dr. Gray currently serves as Executive Director of the Center for Risk Analysis and as a faculty member at the Harvard University School of Public Health. His past research has included work on food safety and environmental chemicals. During the hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) vocally disapproved of Gray's nomination because of his view on pesticides. Once confirmed, Dr. Gray will replace the Acting Assistant Administrator E. Timothy Oppelt.
House Government Reform Committee Recognizes the Year of the Museum
The House Government Reform Committee has unanimously passed H. Res. 389, supporting the goals and ideals of the Year of the Museum. Introduced by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), H. Res. 389 does not have the force of law but expresses the House's sentiment that "museums are institutions of public service and education that foster exploration, study, observation, critical thinking, contemplation and dialogue to advance a greater public knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of history, science, the arts, and the natural world."
No date has been set for floor debate on H. Res. 389.
House passes major changes to Endangered Species Act
On September 19th, House Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) introduced the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA) of 2005 (HR 3824). Pombo pushed TESRA through the House Resources Committee in less than a week. Republicans and Democrats raised concern over this 'rocket docket,' with House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Boehlert (R-NY) issuing a letter signed by 23 Republican members of the House calling for the process to be slowed so that more thoughtful consideration could be made on the important proposed legislation. The letter went unheeded and TESRA was debated on the House floor on September 29th. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Miller (D-CA) and Boehlert introduced a substitute amendment, which would have included the creation of an independent scientific advisory board, but it was narrowly defeated (206-216). The final version of The Threatened and Endangered Species Act of 2005 passed in the House (229-193), a margin smaller than originally anticipated by Pombo.
The key changes to the ESA that would be made by TESRA involve the removal of mandatory critical habitat designation, restrictions on scientific input, reduction in protection for "threatened" species, and payments to landowners for lost revenue of potential development.
Specific changes with regard to the use of science include:
Narrowing the definition and application of "best scientific data available", especially how scientific models are incorporated and how peer-review is to be utilized.
Providing the appointed Secretary of the Interior with the power to define "best available science" on a case-by-case basis.
Moving the science used to define habitat necessary for protection of the species of interest from a key role in the legally binding critical habitat designation to one element of a non-binding recovery plan.
Changing the definition of "distinct population" that would allow the secretary to use distinct population "only sparingly" when justifying listing any species as endangered.
In the Senate, Sens. Crapo (R-ID) and Lincoln (D-AR) are taking steps to design legislation aimed to improve ESA's incentives through their positions as the chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Conservation Subcommittee. The Subcommittee has oversight over farm bill programs that pay farmers who make environmental improvements or enhance wildlife habitat on their land. The farm bill has a much bigger coffer than ESA, with billions of dollars for conservation payments alone. Many of the farm bill programs are meant to support wildlife habitat, but none are targeted specifically for listed species. Sen. Crapo has said he hopes to introduce a bill as soon as possible, perhaps within the next month, and that he and Sen. Lincoln are considering many similar changes to those included in the House bill (HR3824).
Any proposal in the Senate would most likely have to go through Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (R-R.I.) Wildlife Subcommittee. Chafee is still holding hearings on the matter before he works to draft any legislation. Chafee has already begun the process of inviting different stakeholders to a summit that will convene in Keystone, Colo., in late October, where they will try to find consensus on the contentious critical habitat issue. New legislation on this issue isn't expected from Chafee until sometime next year.
Senate Passes NASA Reauthorization Bill
The Senate has passed S. 1281, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act, by unanimous consent. The passage of S. 1281, sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), comes over two months after the House acted on similar legislation.
S. 1281 authorizes an increase in the NASA budget over the next five years following this trend: $16.56 billion for FY 2006, $17.05 billion for FY 2007, $17.47 billion for FY 2008, $18 billion for 2009, and $18.53 billion for FY 2010. These numbers are substantially lower than the $16.97 billion for FY 2006 and $17.73 billion for FY 2007 authorized in the House version. The bill will now go to conference to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.
For more information on the House version, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_07_18.html.
Hollywood comes to DC: Michael Crichton testifies about climate change in the Senate
In September the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing entitled "Science in Environmental Policy Making." The packed, contentious hearing featured testimony from lead witness, Michael Crichton, author of 13 fiction novels including his latest "State of Fear" which casts doubt on the scientific evidence for global warming. While DDT and the Montreal Protocol were discussed during the hearing, climate change quickly became the central topic of a heated debate over the legitimacy and accuracy of climate science.
Crichton was joined on the panel by four additional witnesses. Ambassador Richard Benedick, President of the National Center for Science and Environment, who discussed the 1987 Montreal Protocol, Dr. William Gray, a hurricane modeler from Colorado State University, Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services, who studied the use of DDT to fight malaria, and David Sandalow of the Brookings Institute.
Throughout the hearing, Crichton attracted most of the Senator's initial attention, including that of Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe, who has described global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," praised Crichton's past work and said he had tried to make it "required reading for [the] committee." Democrats on the committee were not as thrilled with Crichton's credentials. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) pointed out that his views were "at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists" and "State of Fear" is a "work of fiction even if it has footnotes."
During their testimony, Crichton and Gray expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate science calling for verification of past studies and more rigorous scrutiny in the future. Gray stood and passionately testified that climate scientists "don't know much" and "have the basic physics wrong." After listening to his testimony, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) aggressively questioned Dr. Gray's background in climate science by asking how many peer reviewed journal articles he had published on the subject. Gray admitted that he has not had any climate change articles accepted because there "is also a slight bias about accepting papers that criticize" climate change.
In contrast to Crichton and Gray, Benedick and Sandalow both provided the Senators with evidence of climate change and suggested that "nature does not always provide policy-makers with convenient early warning signals of impending disaster." After Dr. Gray's emphatic testimony, Sandalow replied, "Dr. Gray says he disagrees with [climate change science] and that he's been simmering on this topic for 20 years. I would respectfully recommend that Dr. Gray simmer his way right into the peer-reviewed scientific literature on this topic."
Dover ID Trial Moves Forward
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the Kitzmiller v. Dover case completed its second week of the closely watched Intelligent Design trial. The Plaintiff's Counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have presented a number of witnesses who have studied Intelligent Design and concluded that it is a religious movement based originally on Creationism. The Defense has not yet called a witness to the stand, but has been aggressively cross examining the Plaintiff's witnesses. The trial resumes Tuesday, October 11 after the holiday weekend.
For more information on the Dover case please see the AIBS Public Policy Report from 26 September, http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_09_26.html.
New in BioScience: "Streamlining the Federal Water Research Portfolio"
The October 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers recent federal actions that could improve funding for freshwater research. An excerpt from the article follows.
In the United States, vicious battles over water were once viewed as the sole domain of the American Southwest. But today, conflicts over water are brewing all over the country. In 2002, the New York Times reported on water conflicts in 29 different states. Even as more states are faced with water problems, those with a history of water problems are facing new challenges: according to the Public Policy Institute of California, California's demand for water could increase by as much as 40 percent by 2030.
As the geography of water conflicts expands, the complexity of the issues grows. Robert Hirsch, associate director for water at the US Geological Survey, notes that water allocation has traditionally been viewed in terms of how much was needed for agricultural, urban, and industrial uses, with little consideration for the needs of aquatic habitats. "Now, due to changes in public values and laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the allocation has to be reconsidered; the biota now have a seat at the negotiating table." As a result, the question water managers are faced with has shifted from "How much can we take?" to "How much do we need to leave?"
The complete article may be viewed at
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