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Science Policy Report

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15 January 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ For Obama, congress, a last grasp at immigration
~ Melting of Antarctic glacier slowed by La Niña-caused wind switch, study
~ U.S., Mediterranean countries to face climate change water scarcity by 2100
~ U.S.-China cooperation on climate change strengthened in 2013
~ Swiss study sees wrenching changes ahead for farmers as droughts increase
~ Philippines' efforts to be self-sufficient in rice hit by climate change
~ China's wetlands shrink, damaging its water reserves

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering
~ The Confluence Fund
~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Food Security Challenge Area
~ Distance Education Grants Program for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Agriculture scientists support approving genetically altered apple but meet resistance
~ Food industry to fire preemptive GMO strike
~ A lonely quest for facts on genetically modified crops
~ AAAS Riley Memorial Lecture- deadline for nominations 1 Feb, 2014
~ Addressing resource concerns: using NRCS' new land use planning criteria, webinar
~ Register today for free USDA regulatory permitting and compliance workshop
~ New Ag International 2014 China Conference & Exhibition: Fertigation & Foliar Feeding
~ Researchers find fungus that can boost soil carbon storage by up to 70%
~ Montana State University research on algal biofuels keys larger study
~ What I learned from six months of GMO research: none of it matters

Congressional/Administration News

~ Appropriators unveil $1.012 trillion omnibus with complete spending plans
~ The future of agriculture requires dialogue
~ 10 ag-related items to watch in 2014
~ Debbie Stabenow ‘feeling very good’ about farm bill
~ Action report submission of the 2014 climate action report
~ Introduction to the unified agenda of federal regulatory and deregulatory actions
~ Foes of new conservation fee policy enacted in budget turn sights on farm bill

International Corner


(TOP) ~ For Obama, congress, a last grasp at immigration

President Obama, despite a somewhat tattered agenda, clings to the hope of winning a lasting legislative achievement: a reform of immigration laws. And there are some favorable signs. House Speaker John Boehner has sent signals that raised the expectations of overhaul supporters, including the hiring of Rebecca Tallent, who was most recently the director of a bipartisan think tank’s immigration task force. David Winston, a Republican pollster, said, "The question is what are the core things that Republicans can't move away from, what are the core things that Democrats can't walk away from. You may have preferences and then you may have core elements. That's part of the process of going back and forth." President Obama has repeatedly argued that immigration reform must contain a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Melting of Antarctic glacier slowed by La Niña-caused wind switch, study

On the icy continent of Antarctica, the melting of the Pine Island Glacier has proceeded more or less steadily for the last 40 years. Yet measurements made by Pierre Dutrieux, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey, found that in 2012, the part of the glacier that floats out over the ocean, known as the ice shelf, melted at half the rate it did in 2010. Dutrieux and other scientists have been researching why this occurred, and in a paper published in the journal Science, they outline some of the reasons behind the shift in melt rate. "The key result is the Pine Island ice shelf melting is very sensitive to climate variability," said Dutrieux. This means changes in climatic factors, like wind direction, which is linked to La Niña, affected the ice shelf melt. While glaciers are made out of the same stuff and susceptible to the same processes, it's also true that, like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. The topography of the ocean floor under the ice shelf may affect them. The winds that affect ocean circulation can lead to changes in melt. The location of the glacier itself might lead to different responses to climatic changes. In the case of the Pine Island Glacier, one unique characteristic is that its ice shelf floats over a part of the ocean floor that is divided by a high underwater ridge. That ridge influences the shelf's melting because, at times, it can block warm water from entering the area below part of the shelf. If there is a thick layer of cold water above the warm water below, as there was in 2012, the ridge keeps the warm water underneath from getting through and melting the shelf. But when the layer of cold water that sits above the warm water is thin, the warm water can get through and melt the ice shelf from underneath. The thickness of the cold layer of water, said Dutrieux, is influenced by the direction of winds in the Amundsen Sea, which surrounds it. The wind direction, in turn, is affected by El Niño, the scientists believe. They linked the La Niña that occurred in the tropical Pacific around that time to the thicker layer of cold water around the glacier. The winds, which normally blow from the west, shifted direction and blew from the east.


(TOP) ~ U.S., Mediterranean countries to face climate change water scarcity by 2100

water scarcityAccording to experts, in a mere 86 years, 2.2 billion people worldwide will be living with insufficient water supplies. Southern parts of the United States and Mediterranean countries will be the worst affected by the severe water shortage, while a fifth of the world population will have to survive on less than 500 cubic meters of water per year, they said. The findings of 30 groups of researchers from 12 countries (published in the journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature) outlined "thousands of climate change simulations using standardized scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions." What they found: Up to a fifth of people will be affected by extreme water deficits if the global temperature rises by an average of 2 degrees Celsius, which current models indicate is somewhat imminent. By far, the four reports say, the largest threat from climate change is water shortage. Read full article


(TOP) ~ U.S.-China cooperation on climate change strengthened in 2013

Green groups and policymakers say the United States and China have started working together more effectively on climate change and other environmental issues. Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said cooperation between China and the U.S. has improved greatly since the 2009 U.N. talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. "For a period of time, the two countries sort of used each other as sort of an excuse not to take much action. But now I think there's a better opportunity," Ma said. This year, the United States and China agreed to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators. Experts also credited Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts in developing the U.S.-China Working Group on Climate Change. China's increased cooperation is likely a result of public outcry against the extreme air pollution seen in the nation's cities last year, prompting the government to ramp up efforts to reduce emissions. The next challenge will be requiring Chinese factories to report the amount and type of emissions they create, which will help the nation enforce its existing environmental laws. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told CNN in Hong Kong that China has reached out to the United States for advice on technologies to monitor and control pollution levels. EPA is also helping China develop regulations on sulfur dioxide emissions and encourage the use of cleaner fuels. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Swiss study sees wrenching changes ahead for farmers as droughts increase

Future drought intensified by climate change will inevitably increase conflict among water users around the globe, especially in regions where water is already scarce. In Switzerland (a country that doesn't typically come to mind when thinking about climate change and drought) the government is already starting to think about minimizing this conflict, especially for its heavily subsidized agricultural sector. A recently completed study backed by the Swiss government concluded that to maintain food productivity as the climate changes, the nation's agriculture sector faces big trade-offs. To avoid major environmental impacts and water shortages by 2050, Switzerland's farms may face fundamental changes. "That means you have to change what you are growing in the region, you have to change where you are growing it in the region and you have to change soil management," said Jürg Fuhrer, project leader and head of the Air Pollution/Climate Research Group at Agroscope, the Swiss government's agriculture, food and environmental research organization in Zurich. Largely thanks to high tariffs on imports and other government support, Swiss agriculture today provides about 60 percent of its population's needs. But shifting rainfall patterns in some of the country's most important farming regions could chip away at the sector's productivity.


(TOP) ~ Philippines' efforts to be self-sufficient in rice hit by climate change

Climate change is making it more difficult for the Philippines to be self-sufficient by having enough rice to feed its people, the nation's economic planning secretary said yesterday. Of the estimated damage from natural disasters in the Philippines in 2013, 74 percent was in agriculture, primarily rice, according to the minister, Arsenio Balisacan. He added that global warming is causing extreme weather in the Philippines. "We expect these extreme events and unpredictable phenomena to become the new normal," he warned at a workshop on the dangers agriculture faces from climate change. To become self-sufficient in rice, the country needs to harvest 19.03 million tons this year. However, it has been a net rice importer for the last 50 years except for a brief time in the 1970s. The Asian Development Bank has said Southeast Asia is a region very much at risk from climate change, particularly due to its extensive coastlines, its having a large number of people and a large amount of business activity on the coasts, and a major reliance on agriculture for people's jobs. The ADB has warned that Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines might each have to spend $5 billion annually by 2020 adapting to climate change. Read full article


(TOP) ~ China's wetlands shrink, damaging its water reserves

China has lost nearly a tenth of its wetlands since 2003, forestry officials have said, worsening China's water shortage, which has hit agriculture, energy production and industrial activity. While China has more than 20 percent of the world's population, it has only 6 percent of its freshwater reserves, and huge parts of the country face major water problems. "The investigation shows that China is facing various problems with wetlands protections," Zhang Yongli, vice director of China's State Forestry Administration, told reporters. In the last 10 years, 130,000 square miles of wetlands, an area bigger than Holland, has vanished. The wetlands have been made into farms, absorbed by infrastructure projects or eroded by climate change, the forestry body said. China has earmarked $660 billion to increase its water supplies this decade. The loss of wetlands will endanger China's freshwater resources. "This will add to the pressure and increase competition for water going forward," said Debra Tan of the nonprofit China Water Risk. "China will be looking to grow more food, and more food in wetlands, as urbanization continues.” Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering

The Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering (CyberSEES) program aims to advance interdisciplinary research in which the science and engineering of sustainability are enabled by new advances in computing, and where computational innovation is grounded in the context of sustainability problems. The CyberSEES program is one component of the National Science Foundation's Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) activities, a Foundation-wide effort aimed at addressing the challenge of sustainability through support for interdisciplinary research and education. In the SEES context, a sustainable world is one where human needs are met equitably without harm to the environment or sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Deadline 8 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ The Confluence Fund

Confluence Fund's next grant cycle will start in spring 2014 with LOIs accepted from January 1 through February 1, 2014. Proposals are by invitation only and follow LOI process. The Confluence Fund (CF) seeks to be a catalyst for innovative conservation solutions designed to conserve wild landscapes. Our geographic focus is the Yellowstone to Yukon region. We will consider projects that are contiguous with the Y2Y and advance conservation efforts in the region. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Food Security Challenge Area

In FY 2014, only proposals that focus on reducing crop and livestock losses in U.S. agricultural systems will be considered for funding. Proposed projects should develop and extend sustainable, integrated management strategies that reduce pre and post-harvest losses caused by diseases, insects, and weeds in crop and animal production systems, while maintaining or improving product quality and production efficiency. Proposals should aim to develop approaches for managing losses throughout the whole food system (production, harvesting, storage, processing, distribution, and consumption), and should address the social, economic, and behavioral aspects of food security. Project types supported by AFRI within this Challenge Area will propose multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects, Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants, and conferences and/or workshops. Deadline 12 Jun. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Distance Education Grants Program for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas

Applications may only be submitted by an Eligible Institution. For the purposes of the DEG grants program, an eligible institution means an institution of higher education, as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1995 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)), that is located in an Insular Area and that has a demonstrable capacity to carry out teaching and extension programs in the food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences. Individual Land-grant colleges and universities, and other institutions that have secured Land-grant status through Federal legislation, and which are located in Insular Areas are automatically eligible for awards under the DEG grants program. The eight insular areas are the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the Virgin Islands of the United States. Deadline 7 Mar. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Agriculture scientists support approving genetically altered apple but meet resistance

The USDA appears inclined to approve an apple genetically engineered not to turn brown, but first must address some enduring public distaste for genetically modified (GM) foods. Consumer advocates, as well as domestic apple producers, oppose the “Arctic” apple, which was developed by Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits. Christian Schlect, the president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said, “This is a huge issue, and it has great ramifications for our industry…we’re concerned about the marketing impact, from consumer impact to the imposition of additional costs.” Thousands of people have weighed in as the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service considers whether to grant the apple “non-regulated” status. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Food industry to fire preemptive GMO strike

gmo strikeThe U.S. food industry, which has tried to kill genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling initiatives, is now pushing for a federal GMO law. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is, however, advocating for an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard. It’s a move food activists see as a power grab. The GMA and its supporters argue they are simply trying to find a national solution for GMO labeling, instead of having to navigate a patchwork of state laws. A discussion draft of the GMA’s proposed bill reveals that labeling standards would not be mandatory and the industry would submit to more oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It would also preclude states from adopting laws that are not identical to federal requirements. Read full article


(TOP) ~ A lonely quest for facts on genetically modified crops

This article focuses a spotlight on Greggor Ilagan, a councilman on the nine-member County Council on the island of Hawaii. It traces his evolution from someone who was not even sure what a genetically modified organism (GMO) was, to someone who eventually voted against a ban on genetically engineered crops on Hawaii. Almost all of his colleagues supported the ban when it was introduced in May 2013; and he could see why: “You just type ‘G.M.O.’ and everything you see is negative,” he told his staff. And it seemed likely that opposing the ban would ruin any chances of re-election. Still, Ilagan had nagging doubts, and he sought answers on his own and found, like many public and business leaders worldwide, that he was wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs did not reflect scientific evidence. Read full article


(TOP) ~ AAAS Riley Memorial Lecture- deadline for nominations 1 Feb, 2014

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) invites nominations for well-respected scientists working at the forefront of a pressing issue at the nexus of agriculture and society to deliver the 2014 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture (to be held next June in Washington, DC). Candidates should have outstanding scientific contributions or significant policy accomplishments related to agriculture with demonstrated societal impact. Nomination packets must include the nominee’s name and title, institutional affiliation, address (physical and email), and phone number; the nominator’s name and title, institutional affiliation, email address, and phone number; a summary of the basis of the nomination that illuminates the nominee’s accomplishments with respect to agriculture and society (not to exceed 500 words); and a curriculum vitae (3 page maximum). Get more information


(TOP) ~ Addressing resource concerns: using NRCS' new land use planning criteria, webinar

As part of the conservation delivery streamlining process, land use designations have been revised and defined so that USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service planners will be able to consistently apply appropriate and logical land use designations. This consistency will enable accurate reporting, support analysis, and facilitate efforts to model conservation effects. The restructured land use designations will be better aligned with the Federal land classification standards used by other Federal agencies. Participants will learn about the new USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service land use designations and how they will be implemented in Customer Service Toolkit and the Progress Reporting System. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Register today for free USDA regulatory permitting and compliance workshop

The USDA APHIS Biotechnology Regulatory Services has scheduled a free Regulatory Permitting and Compliance Education Workshop for January 30, 2014 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to assist the biotechnology industry in complying with these U.S. regulations by: increasing participants' knowledge of the USDA APHIS BRS regulatory risk assessment application process, and compliance inspection and enforcement processes; explaining how to navigate ePermits, the APHIS online permitting tool; enabling participants to understand the regulatory differences between permits and notifications; and introducing available compliance assistance opportunities. Get more information


(TOP) ~ New Ag International 2014 China Conference & Exhibition: Fertigation & Foliar Feeding

The inaugural New Ag International 2014 China Conference & Exhibition will focus on technology, agronomics of use, and promotion of water soluble fertilizers and their use in Fertigation and Foliar application systems in China and greater Asia. New Ag International is inviting leading producers, researchers, traders, distributors and consultants to attend, as well as government officials. The conference program will cover the following topics: technology developments in soluble fertilizers for fertigation & foliar feeding, the various fertigation/injection systems, agronomics of fertigation & foliar feeding, markets: the main features and evolution of the Chinese and surrounding Asian markets for water soluble fertilizers, and new types of water soluble products used in fertigation and foliar feeding systems. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Researchers find fungus that can boost soil carbon storage by up to 70%

Certain types of fungi can help soils store more carbon, a dynamic many see as key in sequestering the greenhouse gas and curbing climate change. Using soil profiles from more than 200 locations in boreal forests, tropical forests, temperate forests and grasslands, researchers found that a certain type of fungus that thrives on plant roots can store 1.7 times the amount of carbon per unit of nitrogen that a more common soil fungus can. The findings, published in the journal Nature, contribute to the growing body of research on the largest source of stored carbon on Earth. This week, another soil carbon study published in Nature Communications found that carbon in organic matter is more likely to stick to soil particles with rough surfaces, and suggested that the potential for carbon sequestration in soils is less than previously thought. See fungus findings and See soil carbon study


(TOP) ~ Montana State University research on algal biofuels keys larger study

Montana State University research into the production of algae high in oil content is a cornerstone of a larger feasibility study of how the organisms, first discovered in Yellowstone, might anchor a sustainable biofuels industry. Read full story


(TOP) ~ What I learned from six months of GMO research: none of it matters

In this opinion piece, Nathanael Johnson, a journalist for Grist who has written a series of articles on the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), says that after devoting an enormous amount of time to the project, he discovered that “The most astonishing thing about the vicious public brawl over GMOs is that the stakes are so low.” Imagine, he says, a GMO-free future: farming looks pretty much the same, but with more broad-spectrum insecticides and less glyphosate; eaters no longer worry about GMO health hazards; and, plant scientists have perhaps increased their use of mutagenesis and epigenetic manipulation. Now the future where the pro-GMO side wins: we see less insecticide, more herbicide, and less tillage; genetic engineering is just one tool in the tinkerer’s belt; and, most of the risks and benefits of progress are coming from other technologies. Read full article

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ Appropriators unveil $1.012 trillion omnibus with complete spending plans

House and Senate negotiators completed an agreement on a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending package on Monday that would fund nearly every corner of the federal government with 12 new appropriations bills while seeking to sidestep the most contentious policy questions that have tied up Congress in recent years. The sprawling package folds in new spending directives for all 12 of the annual appropriations measures and does not include any continuing resolutions, effectively hitting the “reset” button for many domestic programs that have seen their funding and guidance frozen for years due to political gridlock. Below is a summary of the USDA research portfolio, DOE Office of Science and NSF. Although they may seem modest, these increases are a very positive sign of congressional support for research despite the current austere fiscal environment. The bill provides $1.122 million for ARS, which is $105 million above fiscal year 2013. The bill provides $1.277 billion for NIFA, which is $74 million above fiscal year 2013. ($316.409 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, $243.701 million for Hatch Act, $33.961 million for McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Act, $52.485 million for Research at 1890 Institutions, and $300 million for Smith-Lever, Section 3(b) and (c) programs and Cooperative Extension.) The Office of Science is funded at $5.071 billion, $205 million above the FY13 enacted level. The bill provides $7.17 billion for NSF, an increase of $288 million above the fiscal year 2013 sequester level. Lawmakers will have to pass a short-term continuing resolution by Wednesday to keep the government running after the Jan. 15 expiration of the current continuing resolution but that no other stopgap plan will be needed.


(TOP) ~ The future of agriculture requires dialogue

In this opinion piece, Robert T. Fraley, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto, as well as the co-recipient of the 2013 World Food Prize, writes that he hopes the decision to honor himself and the other recipients of the 2013 World Food Prize will help reset the discussion around innovation in agriculture. Noting that global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, which will increase food demand by 70 percent, Fraley says, “at the very same time the demand for food is skyrocketing, food production is under severe pressure from climate change. It is fair to say that this represents one of the greatest challenges in the history of humanity. But it's one that GM [genetically modified] crops can help meet.” Read full article


(TOP) ~ 10 ag-related items to watch in 2014

In this blog piece, John G. Dillard, an associate attorney with Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC, predicts the hot topics in agriculture for 2014. He begins with: the Farm Bill, which we can expect to see some time in January, although he notes that farm bills are getting harder and harder to come by; the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, which is being challenged by the American Farm Bureau Federation and will likely be decided this year; and the Mississippi River Basin Numeric Limitations on Nutrients, which involves another court case that should be decided this year. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Debbie Stabenow ‘feeling very good’ about farm bill

stabenowSenate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said that the top farm bill negotiators are “just tying up loose ends” and “feeling very good about things” going into a full meeting of the House-Senate conference. No formal session has yet been scheduled, but Stabenow said she “fully” expects one soon and held out hope that a conference report could be signed, clearing the way for floor consideration. “We just have to get through that conference committee, get the report signed,” the Michigan Democrat told reporters. “There’s a desire to get this done by everybody.” Despite Stabenow’s optimism, there remains some confusion as to how fast events will actually move and when the text of the conference report will be ready. Except for one public meeting, most of the negotiations have been carried out behind closed doors. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Action report submission of the 2014 climate action report

The US Department of State has released its '2014 Climate Action Report' to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The report details actions the United States is taking domestically and internationally to mitigate, adapt to, and assist others in addressing climate change. The 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report fulfills requirements under the UNFCCC for all Parties to report periodically on actions and progress in combating climate change. The last U.S. Climate Action Report submitted was in 2010. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Introduction to the unified agenda of federal regulatory and deregulatory actions

The Semiannual Regulatory Agenda for each US Government Agency is published in the January 7, 2014 Federal Register. The agenda describes the regulatory actions that are under development or recently completed for each agency. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Foes of new conservation fee policy enacted in budget turn sights on farm bill

Some farm and conservation groups are looking to the reauthorization of the farm bill as a way to reverse a budget provision they warn could lead to less conservation on farmland. Several Western and national organizations are urging farm bill conference committee leaders to eliminate the new policy, which authorizes the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service to charge a fee for conservation technical assistance that, up to now, has been provided to farmers free of charge. The policy change was included in the budget President Obama signed into law last month. It applies broadly to the assistance NRCS provides farmers for conservation planning. "We are concerned that the imposition of a user fee for this most basic of activities would serve as a significant disincentive to producers to engage in necessary planning and an obstacle to delivering effective conservation," the organizations wrote to House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). The provision in the budget package allows NRCS to charge farms up to $150 to provide technical planning assistance where the agency finds such fees "reasonable and appropriate." It provides exemptions for beginning, limited-resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Conservation planning needed to comply with specific local, state and federal rules is also excluded. Read the letter

Sources: AAAS; Ag/FDA Blog; Climatewire; Grist; The Huffington Post; Meridian Institute; National Science Foundation; The New York Times; Politico; The Washington Post

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.