Meet with Your Lawmakers This Summer and Help Inform Science Policy
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that registration is now open for the 2023 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.
Now in its 14th year, this national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research. This initiative helps to put a face on science and to remind lawmakers that science is happening in their district and state.
The Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participating scientists can meet with their elected officials at the local district office, virtually, or may invite them to visit their research facility.
"I am grateful for the experience, which has enriched my professional development. I am particularly pleased to think that we started a conversation with Rep. Joyce Beatty's office that will continue in the future. I encourage everyone to reach out beyond their scientific community, which includes explaining your science to your district offices."
- Coralie Farinas, Graduate Student, Ohio State University
AIBS will once again organize the event this summer and fall in a hybrid format, with options for both virtual as well as in-person meetings and tours. AIBS will schedule participants' meetings with lawmakers and will prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support. Meetings will take place mid-July through October, depending on the participant's schedule and their lawmaker's availability.
This event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Primatologists, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Paleontological Society, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.
Registration for participation is free, but required and closes on July 14, 2023. To learn more and register, visit io.aibs.org/cdv.
Debt Deal Signals Stagnant Funding for Science
Last week, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to avert a U.S. default by suspending the debt ceiling until January, 2025 and thus providing the government borrowing authority for two more years. The compromise measure, finalized after weeks of negotiations between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), also puts limits on federal spending over the next two years.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3746) caps nondefense discretionary spending, which includes scientific research funding, at $704 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2024. In FY 2025, nondefense discretionary spending will be capped at $711 billion, a 1 percent increase over FY 2024. According to the White House, the legislation would keep FY 2024 nondefense spending roughly the same as 2023 levels when accounting for appropriations adjustments. But with inflation factored in, a flat budget could translate to funding cuts for science and other nondefense programs.
Defense programs on the other hand, will be capped at $886 billion in FY 2024, roughly a 3 percent increase from the FY 2023 level, as requested in the President's budget request. In FY 2025, this would increase to $895 billion.
The essentially flat funding for civilian programs over the next two years has fueled concerns that the ambitious R&D goals approved under the CHIPS and Science Act could be harder to achieve. Science agencies will need to compete with other nondefense programs to receive any funding increases. Any increases for science programs will likely result in cuts for other programs.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for appropriating CHIPS and Science Act authorizations. A bipartisan group of Senators, led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), sent a letter to appropriators late last year urging them to fully fund the law. Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), who co-sponsored key science provisions in the law, said that he had been "very frustrated with how the funding of science has gone." He indicated that he will be "out there hustling to make sure that science and research get their fair share" with the understanding that congressional appropriators need to work with constraints.
The debt legislation incorporates a number of other notable provisions. It terminates the suspension of federal student loan payments, expands the work requirements for federal food assistance programs, and modifies the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to expedite the permitting process for certain energy projects. It fast-tracks the completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline, a natural gas project that would run from West Virginia to Virginia, which was a priority for Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The bill also rescinds tens of billions in "unobligated" funds--money that has been appropriated but not yet spent. This includes unspent COVID-19 relief funding as well as some funding provided to the Internal Revenue Service under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). However, it does not claw back any of IRA's climate spending or renewable energy incentives, as Republicans had hoped for.
Supreme Court WOTUS Ruling Shrinks Protections for Wetlands
On May 25, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) case, siding with the Sacketts and significantly narrowing the reach of federal clean water protections.
The 5-4 decision removes protections for the majority of the nation's wetlands. Specifically, it finds 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." Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that, "wetlands that are separate from traditional navigable waters cannot be considered part of those waters, even if they are located nearby."
Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the liberal justices in a concurring opinion that argued that the ruling was too restrictive. "By narrowing the Act's coverage of wetlands to only adjoining wetlands, the Court's new test will leave some long-regulated adjacent wetlands no longer covered by the Clean Water Act, with significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States," wrote Justice Kavanaugh.
The Sacketts argued for a narrow test when determining federal jurisdiction, favoring the 'continuous surface connection' test described by Justice Antonin Scalia in the 2006 Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States. Federal courts, however, had favored the broader 'significant nexus' test written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his opinion in the 2006 case.
Last year, AIBS joined the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS), the Ecological Society of America, and the Society for Ecological Restoration in filing an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that argued that the Clean Water Act's objective "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters" could only be achieved "by considering the science that demonstrates the critical role wetlands and streams play in supporting the health of downstream and downslope waters, including traditional navigable waters such as lakes and rivers." According to the brief, "the significant nexus test is consistent with the science" and recognizes the contribution of wetlands and streams to the overall quality of traditional navigable waters. While the Sackett's proposed framework "rejects hydrological reality, ignoring the science behind the ways in which wetlands and streams affect traditional navigable waters."
The ruling provides a narrower interpretation of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction than the Trump Administration's 2020 rule that only protected wetlands if they had "relatively permanent" surface water connections with other nearby waterways and included protections for wetlands that were cut off from nearby waterways by human-made structures like roads.
The decision is also at odds with the Biden Administration's new definition of which wetlands and streams qualify as "waters of the United States," or WOTUS, to receive protections under the Clean Water Act. The Biden WOTUS rule, finalized earlier this year, is currently on hold in more than half of the US states as a result of lawsuits from GOP-led states and industry groups. The Administration will likely be forced to revise that rule now to account for the Supreme Court's decision. The Army Corps of Engineers announced that it has paused approvals for key wetlands determinations as it awaits further guidance.
Advocates for agriculture, oil and gas, mining, private property, and other industries celebrated the ruling. Agriculture and developer groups in particular have long pushed for a narrower definition of WOTUS, arguing that a broad definition creates regulatory and economic burdens. Earthjustice, an environmental group, called the outcome "a catastrophic loss for water protections across the country and a win for big polluters."
GAO Report Urges Stronger Defense Against Zoonotic Diseases
According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a watchdog agency, there is a high risk of dangerous wildlife-borne diseases infecting humans if the federal government doesn't upgrade its monitoring systems.
The report found that government agencies involved in the surveillance of zoonotic diseases have made some progress but could do more to improve collaborations and information sharing to establish a national wildlife disease surveillance system that would better position the U.S. to address emerging diseases. "Some of the federal regulations on wildlife imports were put in place in reaction to past outbreaks," the report noted, adding that current approaches to zoonotic diseases "may not be sufficient to proactively prevent future outbreaks."
The report outlines five recommendations, directed at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to improve surveillance and better assess human health risks posed by wildlife. Read the report.
Interior Secretary Appoints Members to NPS Advisory Board
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has appointed 15 new members to the National Park System (NPS) Advisory Board, reviving it after 2 and a half years of hiatus. The board last convened in December 2020.
The NPS Advisory Board advises the Director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior on matters relating to the National Park Service, the National Park System, and programs administered by the National Park Service. It also makes recommendations on new national natural landmarks and national historic landmarks. The board's membership represents various geographic regions across the US and consists of individuals who have demonstrated commitment to the mission of the National Park Service. The new members will serve four-year terms that will expire in 2027. View the current board roster.
The board's charter had expired in January 2023, but Secretary Haaland decided to reestablish it last month because its work "is necessary and in the public interest." She said the new board will have its first meeting later this year.
Apply to Attend NSF BIO's LIFE Scoping Workshops
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is partnering with KnowInnovation to host two Leveraging Innovations From Evolution (LIFE) Scoping Workshops, one in-person and one virtual, that will bring together diverse scientists to think on specific research challenges and opportunities, including technological and educational training needs, that leverage convergent evolution to investigate the evolution of innovation and adaptive traits.
Researchers with interest and expertise in a variety of fields, including but not limited to, biochemistry, molecular biology, systematics, bioengineering, computational biology, developmental biology, mathematics, biomechanics, physical scientists, integrative biologists, ecologists, and cellular biology, are encouraged to attend.
Application deadline for the scoping workshops is COB June 5, 2023. The in-person Scoping Workshop will be held August 14-16, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The virtual Scoping Workshop will be held on September 11, 13, and 14, 2023 from 10:00 AM-4:00 PM ET each day. Each event will have 60 selected participants from the applications.
The recording and slides from a virtual Town Hall held on May 15, 2023, to discuss the workshop goals and event logistics, are available on the workshop webpage.
Enter the 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 Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) is soliciting nominations for experts to participate in a new study about the modes of transmission and means of geographic spread of chronic wasting disease among free-ranging and captive populations of cervids in the United States. Nominations are requested for individuals with expertise in areas and disciplines such as cervid biology and behavior, veterinary medicine, prion biology and ecology, and wildlife disease epidemiology, modelling, and transmission. The deadline to submit nominations is June 7, 2023.
The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Public Access and Open Science Working Group is hosting a series of "listen and learn" sessions for external stakeholders to help inform ongoing implementation planning for NSF's upcoming Public Access Plan 2.0, in response to the 2022 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directive on public access. Register for the session on Friday, June 16, 2023, from 1:00 to 2:00 PM ET, oriented toward stakeholders from the Geosciences (GEO) and Biological Sciences (BIO) research communities, here.
NEWSWAVE, a quarterly newsletter from the Department of the Interior (DOI), features news and accomplishments related to ocean, Great Lakes and coastal activities from across its Bureaus. The Summer 2023 edition shows how DOI is working to fulfill the stewardship commitments made by President Biden in a proclamation he issued in recognition of National Ocean Month 2023. In addition, on Tuesday, June 13, DOI will be hosting an ocean-themed virtual seminar through its Office of Policy Analysis to detail how they are advancing science through deep sea exploration, blue carbon research, and preparing for coastal change to support ocean climate actions, management strategies, and policies. Register for the seminar.
From the Federal Register
The following items appeared in the Federal Register from May 22 to June 2, 2023.
Environmental Protection Agency
Health and Human Services
National Science Foundation
Office of Science and Technology Policy