Government Shutdown Looms as Lawmakers Return from Recess
Senators returned to Capitol Hill last week from their August recess, while House members are resuming their legislative business this week. Among the biggest priorities for Congress this month will be shoring up funding for fiscal year 2024 before October 1 to avert a government shutdown. Given the current state of spending negotiations in the two chambers, a stopgap measure will almost certainly be required to extend current funding levels and keep the government operational.
The passage of a continuing resolution is currently facing an impasse, with far-right Republicans in the House demanding concessions in exchange for their support. President Biden has also asked Congress to approve $16 billion in disaster relief and additional funding to help support Ukraine. Senate leaders and the White House are hoping to attach the supplemental funding measure to the stopgap bill but members of the House Freedom Caucus have said they would not support a continuing resolution with Ukraine funds and without deep spending cuts and new border security measures.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) stated that his "focus will be on funding the government and preventing House Republican extremists from forcing a government shutdown." He added that "the House should follow the Senate's incredible lead and pass their appropriations bills in a bipartisan way."
Prior to heading into recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed all 12 spending bills, while the House counterpart advanced 10. The full Senate is now looking to, for the first time in years, take up individual spending bills this month, but Schumer has yet to announce the schedule.
The two chambers are currently far apart on their respective funding proposals. The Senate is so far sticking with the discretionary spending levels permitted under the budget deal between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), but the House Appropriations Committee has marked-up bills with deeper spending cuts. "It's a pretty big mess," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) regarding the current state of appropriations negotiations. If lawmakers fail to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the start of calendar year 2024, a 1-percent budget cut will be made across-the-board due to a provision in the debt limit bill that was meant to incentivize Congress to complete appropriations work by the end of the year.
Revised WOTUS Rule Shrinks Protections for Wetlands
In response to a recent Supreme Court decision, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have issued a new "conforming" rule with a revised definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The updated rule now removes protections for the vast majority of the nation's wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
"While I am disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in the Sackett case, EPA and the Army have an obligation to apply this decision alongside our state co-regulators, tribes and partners," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
The WOTUS definition determines which waterways and wetlands fall under federal protection. The Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA earlier this summer removed protections for most of the nation's wetlands. Specifically, it found that wetlands are only federally protected under the Clean Water Act if they have a 'continuous surface connection' with a larger body of water that makes it "difficult to determine where the 'water' ends and the 'wetland' begins."
The decision forced the Administration to revisit the rule it published in January 2023 and amend certain provisions that were invalidated under the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Under the new rule, which went into effect on September 8, only wetlands with relatively permanent surface water connections to larger waterways will be regulated by the federal government.
Although the Administration has significantly scaled back the earlier rulemaking, regulated industry groups say the new rule still falls short of their needs and are expected to challenge it in court.
PCAST Calls on Sciences Agencies to Enhance Public Engagement
In a letter to President Biden, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has urged the White House to improve dialogue among scientists, policymakers, and the public to ensure that public policies are informed by scientific understanding and community values.
The PCAST, first established in 2001, is a presidential advisory council comprised of science and technology leaders from the private sector and academic communities who advise the President on science, technology, and innovation topics critical to the country's security and economy, as well as public health and welfare.
To enhance engagements between federal science agencies, science and technology experts, and communities, PCAST recommends that agencies make science and technology communication and public engagement a "core component of their mission and strategy," including by ensuring that experts on public engagement are included in agency policy- and decision-making processes.
It also suggests establishing a new office to support agencies in their efforts to develop effective public engagement and science communications. This office "should consist of individuals with a range of expertise who can partner with or be deployed to agencies, including assistance in the use of social science-informed techniques for participatory engagement and cutting-edge digital technologies."
Read the letter.
White House Requests Input on Policies Governing Pathogen Research
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has issued a request for information (RFI) on potential changes to the policies governing the oversight of Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) and the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight (P3CO) Policy Framework. These policies establish frameworks for review and oversight requirements for certain types of life sciences research, particularly research involving certain pathogens and toxins, at institutions that accept government funding for such research.
OSTP requests comments on how the potential policy changes could mitigate risks associated with DURC and research with enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPP) while minimizing undue burden on institutions.
Earlier this year, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended tightening federal rules for funding research on dangerous pathogens. This raised concerns that such rule changes could restrict routine public health research. The OSTP is now considering ways to narrow the types of research that would undergo the more intense reviews proposed by NSABB. In this RFI, the White House asks whether some of these policies should be limited to risky pathogens that need to be handled in the highest level biocontainment labs.
Responses to the RFI are due October 16, 2023. The final DURC and P3CO policies are expected to be issued in December. Learn more.
IPBES Report: Invasive Species Cost More than $400 Billion Annually
According to new report by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), invasive species have played a major role in 60% of global animal and plant extinctions and have cost the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars.
More than 37,000 alien species have been introduced, intentionally and unintentionally, by humans to regions and biomes around the world. This estimate is increasing at unprecedented rates, according to the IPBES Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control. More than 3,500 of these are harmful invasive alien species that seriously threaten nature, economies, food security, and human health.
The report estimates that the global economic cost of invasive alien species exceeded $423 billion annually in 2019, with costs having at least quadrupled every decade since 1970. The authors warned that these were conservative estimates because of the challenges in accounting for all effects. The assessment also found that invasive alien species are one of the five most important direct drivers of biodiversity loss - alongside changes in land- and sea-use, direct exploitation of species, climate change, and pollution.
The report suggests that future biological invasions, invasive alien species, and their impacts, can be prevented through effective management and more integrated approaches, including improving border biosecurity and strictly enforcing import controls.
Emerging and Early Career Professionals Sought for the Leadership Team of the BIOFAIR Data Network Project
The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), in collaboration with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and with support from the National Science Foundation (Award No. 2303588), is organizing a community discussion series, entitled "Building an Integrated, Open, Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (BIOFAIR) Data Network." Critical to this effort is engaging the next generation of biodiversity professionals. Please share this open call to recruit emerging and early career professionals to join the leadership team in facilitating these discussions.
BCoN is recruiting three (3) emerging professionals (EP; current Master's and PhD students) and three (3) early career professionals (ECP; within 2 years of completing a Master's or PhD) to join the core Steering Committee to catalyze cross-domain discussions, identify a set of shared biodiversity data needs and goals, and define the next steps, shared milestones, and a collaborative plan that will inform cross-domain integration of digital data and scientific research. All members of the Steering Committee will facilitate and participate in a series of online discussions to engage an expansive set of stakeholders with the goal of building novel, timely collaborations to synergize the development of an integrated, open, FAIR biological and environmental data network.
During the course of the two-year project, EP and ECP Steering Committee Members will gain mentored experience planning and executing interdisciplinary meetings, facilitating productive discussions, summarizing meeting outcomes, generating professional reports, and writing collaborative synthesis manuscripts. This is an opportunity for EP and ECP Steering Committee Members to receive timely training in team science and inclusivity; to serve as active participants in a collaborative network of scientists with diverse experiences and expertise; work directly with leaders from across the biodiversity sciences; and engage with diverse stakeholders to establish common ground and align approaches towards a common goal. Experience and training in such skills are increasingly valuable in an interdisciplinary and team science environment.
A modest $1,500 honorarium will be provided for the two-year commitment. We recognize that while the EP and ECP members will bring unique perspectives and contributions to the project, they may also be navigating new professional spaces. The modest honorarium is provided in recognition that emerging professionals might not otherwise have the resources or time to be engaged in such an effort.
Application deadline is September 15, 2023. Learn more about this opportunity, including eligibility requirements, responsibilities, and how to apply.
Applicants from historically excluded communities and people of all racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and persons with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply.
BioScience Talks Podcast: Wolf Recovery and Its Challenges
The latest episode of BioScience Talks features L. David Mech, from the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and David E. Ausband, from the Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, at the University of Idaho, who talk about the successful recovery of gray wolves in North America, and in particular, the challenges associated with that success. Read their BioScience article.
Deadline Approaching: 13th Annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest
Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for a chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.
The competition recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers. Once again, this year's competition is sponsored by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in addition to the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).
"Photography is one of many excellent tools scientists have to showcase their work to new audiences, including policymakers and the public," said Scott Glisson, CEO of AIBS. "AIBS remains committed to strengthening scientists' ability to communicate with broad audiences. An important part of that effort has been supporting this artful approach to sharing their research."
The theme of the contest is "Faces of Biology." Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.
The winning photos from the 2022 contest were featured in the April 2023 issue of BioScience.
Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2023. For more information or to enter the contest, visit our website.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Scientific Integrity, is organizing two virtual listening sessions on September 15 and 20 to receive input from the public about recommendations, issues, and concerns related to federal implementation of the NSTC Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice. Written comments can be submitted by email to ScientificIntegrityRFI@ostp.eop.gov.
The National Science Board (NSB) is accepting nominations for the Vannevar Bush and Science & Society awards until September 29, 2023. The Vannevar Bush Award honors exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology while our Science & Society Award recognizes those who enhance public understanding of science and engineering, or foster diversity in STEM, or inspire scientists and engineers to address society needs.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is inviting feedback on a proposed update to its mission statement. Comments can be submitted until November 24, 2023. Review the proposed changes and share your input.
Join NSF today, September 11, at 1:00-2:00 PM ET for the Division of Environmental Biology's (DEB) Virtual Office Hour focused on DEB Funding for NEON-Enabled Science. Representatives from the program will provide an overview of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and answer stakeholder questions.
Join the National Academies on October 12-13, 2023 for a workshop exploring the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and its role as an autonomous researcher for scientific discovery. The 2-day workshop will examine the current state of AI technology and identify which scientific disciplines will benefit from increased investment in AI scientists. The workshop will also explore the ethical aspects and potential pitfalls that loom for AI scientists. This workshop will be held in a hybrid format, available to attend both online and in person at the National Academies of Sciences building on Constitution Ave. in Washington, D.C. Register to receive additional information.
The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. To help determine the extent to which the National Climate Assessment and other U.S. Global Change Research Program products meet the needs of stakeholders to support decision-making, the National Academies are seeking experts to participate in a new study that will develop a strategy for evaluating stakeholder use. Submit your nominations by September 29, 2023.
From the Federal Register
The following items appeared in the Federal Register from August 28 to September 8, 2023.
Environmental Protection Agency
Health and Human Services
National Science Foundation
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