House Announces New Committee Leadership

The House of Representatives has finalized the roster of committee leaders for the next Congress. Although many familiar faces are returning to their positions, some changes are coming.

The top spot on House Appropriations Committee is not changing, but several appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over science funding will have new chairs. The retirement of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) opened a spot for Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) to take the helm of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Culberson has said that as chairman, “I will do everything in my power to ensure that NASA and the National Science Foundation have what they need to ensure America’s unchallenged leadership in space exploration and scientific discovery.” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) will take the gavel for the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the National Institutes of Health.

The Natural Resources Committee will have a new pair of leaders due to the retirement of the current chair and the move of the current ranking member to another committee. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) will lead the committee and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) will serve as top Democrat on the panel.

Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX) was selected as the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He replaces Frank Lucas (R-OK), who had reached the six-year term limit House Republicans have put on their committee chairs. The Democratic caucus does not have a similar rule.

No changes in leadership will occur on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, where Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will continue to oversee policy related to NSF and other science programs.

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Leadership Changes Anticipated for Key Senate Committees in 2015

Senate leadership in the 114th Congress will change significantly as a result of the Republican gains in the November mid-term elections. Although committee chairs and ranking members have not yet been officially announced, the following changes are widely anticipated.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will have a new chair. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) is expected to replace Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) as the top Republican on the committee due to his seniority. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will likely remain as the most senior Democrat. Mikulski has been a vocal supporter of federal research from her current position as chair of the full committee and the subcommittee that oversees several science agencies.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Thune currently serves as Ranking Member of the Committee. With the retirement of Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is expected to become Ranking Member next year. Nelson serves as chair of the Science and Space Subcommittee, a position he has used to advance policy issues at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Rockefeller’s departure from Congress after thirty years will leave a void in the science policy community, as the Senator has been a solid supporter of efforts to invest in research and has sponsored legislation to reauthorize research and education programs at the National Science Foundation.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will likely lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy. Murkowski has a reputation as a more moderate member of her party and has led a number of bipartisan legislative initiatives. The future ranking member is harder to predict, as the Democrat who currently reigns over the committee—Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)—is facing a tight runoff election on 6 December. If Landrieu is not reelected, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) might succeed her as the top Democrat on the panel.

The Environment and Public Works Committee will likely return to a familiar leadership line up: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Boxer is currently chair. Inhofe previously served as ranking member until 2013 and chaired the committee when Republicans controlled the Senate in the mid-2000s. The duo has clashed over a number of environmental issues, including climate change.

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House Passes Two Bills that Target EPA Science

Scientific endeavors at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are the subject of two pieces of legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives. The votes were largely along party lines, with only one Republican voting against both bills and a handful of Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.

If enacted, H.R. 4012 would prohibit EPA from proposing or finalizing any rule that utilizes research findings that are not “transparent or reproducible.” The “Secret Science Reform Act,” is sponsored by Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) and arose because of a dispute between the House Science Committee and the EPA over availability of data underlying certain air pollution regulations. The agency would not turn over the data to lawmakers because university scientists, not EPA employees, collected it.

The “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013” would allow industry-associated scientists to join the agency’s Science Advisory Board. The bill would not bar “persons with substantial and relevant expertise” from serving on the Board “due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest in the Board’s advisory activities.” The bill would also direct the Science Advisory Board to “avoid making policy determinations or recommendations,” and to “distinguish between scientific determinations and policy advice.” H.R. 1422 is sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT).

The White House has issued a veto threat against H.R. 1422.

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Nominations Sought for Gulf of Mexico Restoration Monitoring Panel

The National Research Council is seeking experts to serve on a study on “Effective Approaches for Monitoring and Assessing Gulf of Mexico Restoration Activities.” The study will provide guidance to ensure restoration efforts are meeting their goals. Experts are needed in ecology, ecosystem restoration, ecosystem services, water quality, adaptive management, and other areas. Nominations are due by 1 December 2014 at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1891672/Gulf-Restoration-Study-Call-for-Nominations.

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Join Us for the 2015 BESC Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held in late spring 2015 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is 13 March 2015.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are being accepted for the 2015 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held in late spring 2015. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • An award certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

The 2015 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, 18 January 2015. The application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Now in BioScience: White House Takes Steps on Climate Adaptation, but Path Forward is Unclear

In the Washington Watch column in the November 2014 issue of the journal BioScience, Kevin Todd highlights congressional recent efforts by the federal government to address climate change.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

At the start of the Obama presidency, many climate change advocates felt that they had an opportunity to achieve meaningful government action on global warming. Although the House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, there was little White House action on this issue during President Obama’s first term. Instead, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change largely took a back seat as the president pursued health-care reform. In his second inaugural address, Obama signaled a shift in focus, stating, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

Continue reading the article for free at https://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/11/970.full.

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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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