Following days of floor debate, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved H.R. 2862 - legislation "Making appropriations for Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006." The measure now awaits Senate consideration.
While the National Science Foundation was ultimately able to fend off an amendment by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to transfer roughly $127 million from the NSF Research and Related Activities Account to the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was not as fortunate. As a result of an amendment by Rules Committee Chairman David Drier (R-CA), NOAA lost $50 million from its operations, research and facilities account. The funds were transferred to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) offered an amendment that would have restored $5 million to NOAA's operations, research and facilities account, but his amendment failed.
The loss of an additional $50 million from NOAA would put the agency well below its current funding level. Prior to adoption of the Drier amendment, the Appropriations Committee had proposed funding for NOAA that would have been nearly $346.5 million below the fiscal year 2005 level and $84 million below the fiscal year 2006 budget request.
If spared from cuts that would likely be driven by the $50 million reduction, oceanic and coastal research and science programs would receive a $3.8 million bump bringing the account to $51.8 million. This would include $24.8 million for the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and $27 million for extramural research. The committee also recommended $15 million above the administration request for a new competitive national program for partnerships in coastal and ocean observing. Within NOAA's National Ocean Service account would be $28.2 million for Coral Reef programs, including the continuation of program activities in Florida and Puerto Rico. As for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Appropriations Committee recommended $556.6 million for operations, research and facilities. This level would cover research and management personnel expenses, and would continue funding for various research programs (horseshoe crab, tuna tagging, bluefish/striped bass, the Virginia trawl survey, and highly migratory shark research). With respect to Protected Species Research and Management, NOAA would be expected to continue operations on current year (FY 05) funding for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation species management programs, and would be required to give priority to investigating ocean noise and its effects on the recovery of protected marine mammals.
For additional details about the FY 06 appropriations for NSF, please see the June 6, 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_06_06.html.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences joined 55 other scientific societies in submitting an Amici curiae, or friend of the court, brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The amicus brief supports Federal Judge Clarence Cooper's decision in the case of Selman et al versus Cobb County School District. Selman et al filed suit against the school district following a requirement by the school board that evolution "warning labels" would be required in every biology textbook used by the district. Judge Cooper heard the case and ruled that the school district's "warning labels" constituted a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The district has appealed Judge Cooper's decision.
Scientific societies are not the only organizations that have filed amicus briefs. Separate briefs were also filed by the National Science Teachers Association and the National Association of Biology Teachers, and National Center for Science Education and People for the American Way.
The controversy surrounding how the White House utilizes science to formulate policy reignited last week with two separate charges alleging that the Bush Administration has intentionally undermined scientific language in official climate change reports. Last week, Phillip Cooney, the former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was accused of editing government climate reports to downplay language describing future effects from climate change and stressing the uncertainties surrounding mitigation. A whistleblower, Rick Piltz, a senior associate with the United States Climate Change Science Policy Office and former Democratic congressional aide, asserted in his resignation memo, "I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program." Cooney, a lawyer without a scientific background, resigned last week to join the Exxon Mobil public relations staff.
Last week, the Bush Administration was also accused of manipulating report language after successfully weakening central provisions of the G-8's plan for combating global warming. According to The Washington Post, US negotiators managed to raise targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and delete language that outlined how rising temperatures are affecting the globe. The international document, "Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development," will play a central role in determining what action G-8 nations (US, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan) will take to address global climate change.
In both cases, the proposed changes to the climate reports have drawn criticism from the scientific community and international interests who charge that the Bush Administration ignored science when forming US policy. Last week, the National Academy of Sciences along with the scientific agencies of 10 other countries released a joint letter stating "The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action."
On 9 June 2005, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the resignation of Dr. Charles G. Groat, director of the US Geological Survey. Groat's last day was 17 June. He will return to his academic roots, accepting a position at the University of Texas at Austin.
Groat has been on the job since 1998. Previously he held posts at the University of Texas at El Paso and Louisiana State University, and spent about two years at the helm of the American Geological Institute.
Taking over as acting director is Dr. P. Patrick Leahy, formerly the USGS associate director for geology. As head of the geology programs at USGS, Leahy has presided over federal Earth science programs that involve monitoring earthquakes and volcanoes, mapping geologic features of the land and seafloor, and assessing energy and mineral resources.
A permanent director must be must be nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate.
In the June 2005 Washington Watch article in BioScience, freelance writer Barton Reppert explores the fallout from the Environmental Protection Agencies' recent mercury regulation. The complete article may be read for free at: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_06.html.
Following is a brief excerpt from the article:
"Forty-three states have issued advisories against eating mercury-contaminated fish, in recognition of the harm that organic methylmercury pollution can cause to the environment and to human health. In response to stepped-up legal and political pressure on the federal government, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to develop a policy for reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of such emissions in this country. Environmental groups, however, made public their opposition to the industry-favored "cap-and-trade" mercury regulation months in advance of the EPA policy announced on 15 March. The chorus of outrage from the environmental community thus was no surprise to EPA officials."
"What EPA officials may not have anticipated was the comparably strong opposition from state governments..."