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CALS in the Capitol—Hot Politics Meet Cool Science

By E. Lauren Chambliss

Politics and science may mix like oil and water, but the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is proving otherwise with a series of policy briefings on Capitol Hill that bring science to bear on pressing legislative issues. The Washington Policy Briefing Series, intended for legislative staff, agency staff, media, and legislators, features faculty experts who provide science-based, objective information, without political agendas, on today's most salient and controversial topics. In 2009, the inaugural year of the quarterly briefings, sessions were held on climate change and agriculture, food safety, natural gas exploration, and cap-and-trade systems for reducing carbon emissions.

David Wolfe (left) and Antonio Bento at a briefing in November, 2009.

David Wolfe (left) and Antonio Bento unveiled a model for including agriculture and forestry in cap-and-trade systems at a briefing in November, 2009.

The series kicked off in March 2009 with climatologist Art DeGaetano and plant ecologist David Wolfe briefing staff on potential impacts to the agricultural sector from a warming climate.

On June 15, just days before a U.S. House committee voted to expand the Food and Drug Administrations power to monitor the nation's food supply, food science professors Kathryn Boor '80 and Robert Gravani, MS '69, PhD '75, briefed Congressional staff on the science of food safety.

Equally timely was a briefing on capand- trade in November, a key component of the legislative effort to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions. Cornell's Wolfe and Antonio Bento, an economist, told a standing-room-only audience that the agricultural sector can reduce its own emissions of greenhouse gases, estimated to be about 7 percent of U.S. total emissions, and further sequester additional carbon and/or replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Bento and Wolfe unveiled a model for including agriculture and forestry in cap-andtrade that would include small farms and landowners who otherwise might not be able to take advantage of carbon-offset markets.

"The staff seemed genuinely appreciative of the expertise that Cornell scientists can provide, but the challenge is on us to do our homework so that our input is highly relevant to ongoing policy debates and pending legislation," Wolfe says.

In February 2010, Susan Riha, director of the Water Resources Institute, and Rod Howe, a senior extension associate in development sociology, discussed potential environmental and community issues raised by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in the Marcellus Shale and other natural gas deposits.