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Upcoming US Legislation Could Have Unintended Effects for SETAC Meetings and Workshops

Thursday, December 6, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sabine Barrett
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Approximately 2,300 scientists, regulators and engineers from more than 45 countries attended the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North America 33rdAnnual Meeting in November in Long Beach, Calif. The 5-day meeting offered 1,800 presentations on topics ranging from "Deepwater Horizon: What Have We Learned?” and "Canadian Oil Sands” to "Advances in Nanotechnology” and "Debating Global Climate Change.” Meetings, workshops and seminars such as these are instrumental for the exchange of information among scientists, regulators and engineers; the networking, collaboration and interaction are critical in advancing science and innovation. However, recent US government travel restrictions in anticipation of upcoming legislation and budget cuts severely impacted attendance by government scientists, including a flood of last-minute cancellations.

Scientific conferences contribute significantly to the local economy. According to the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, SETAC attendees spent about $1.55 million while at the meeting. In addition, SETAC volunteers participated in a restoration service project at Los Cerritos Wetlands, planting and propagating a variety of emergent plants and weeding invasive species. As part of a carbon-offset program, SETAC and its meeting participants donated more than $15,000 to the Friends of the Colorado Lagoon, to help with their effort to restore critical saltmarsh habitat, and to students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to support their carbon sequestration and shoreline re-vegetation efforts of Lake Waco.

While SETAC strongly supports Congressional efforts to address the nation’s financial condition and the long-term solvency of the U.S. Postal Service, language in H.R. 2146, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA), and S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, could have serious unintended consequences, particularly because Congress is under pressure to act quickly.

In particular, amendment SA 2060 to the 21st Century Postal Reform Act is unrelated to efforts to reform and modernize the Postal Service; instead it restricts government employees from attending meetings and conferences. The amendment could have severe negative consequences on scientific discovery, technological innovation and job growth. The dangers of government employees operating in a vacuum—with fewer opportunities to learn and exchange information with other sectors in a conference or meeting setting—are too great to ignore.

Along with more than 2,100 other professional societies, SETAC is delivering a letter to key Congressional offices, expressing concern over the devastating effects such legislation could have on government scientists and on researchers' ability to interact with peers from universities and private industry.

We need your help in spreading the word. Send a message to your members of Congress to make them aware of this amendment and the damage it could cause to public-private partnerships.

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