Science & Technology in Congress
On Tuesday, May 20, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), chairman of the House Science Committee, announced his approval of a new plan for the U.S. to participate in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project.
The LHC will be smaller and less powerful than the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) which was canceled by Congress in 1993. However, it would still be the world's most advanced high-energy physics facility. Initiated by CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, the LHC will replace the currently existing Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) in Switzerland.
In the FY 1998 budget request, the President had asked for the Department of Energy (DOE) to contribute $450 million through 2004 to the LHC's construction. However, the House Science Committee, in a hearing on April 16, refused to provide funding for the project until the many questions surrounding U.S. participation could be answered (see Science & Technology in Congress, May '97). In a speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy on April 25, Rep. Sensenbrenner articulated his concerns, pointing out that (1) it is "tradition" for the project host to assume the acceleration construction cost, (2) the U.S. has no formal management role in the project, (3) several of the CERN member nations are reducing their contributions at the same the U.S. is being asked to give more, and (4) such a high level of U.S. commitment to a foreign project may have a negative impact on the nation's high-energy physics facilities. Rep. Sensenbrenner also expressed his desire to see contingencies established in case of overruns in the cost of the LHC's construction.
Another significant factor behind Congressional opposition to funding the LHC was the feeling that CERN had not provided adequate support for the U.S.-based SSC. The SSC would have been built in Texas, the home state of Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), an outspoken opponent of U.S. participation in the LHC.
Rep. Sensenbrenner took these concerns to CERN and DOE in order to change the draft agreement that they had drawn up in February of this year. Now, he has granted his support to a new agreement which more clearly defines the U.S. role. The agreement states that the U.S. will not be made to spend more than the predetermined contribution if the project experiences cost overruns. It requires the U.S. to be consulted if the technical specifications of the LHC are changed. The agreement also assures U.S. researchers access to the LHC, and outlines U.S. participation in the CERN council. The CERN council is likely to approve the new agreement at its next meeting on June 20.
Funding for the LHC has yet to be approved by Congress. The bill authorizing funding for DOE science activities (H.R. 1277) does not provide funds for the LHC, but that could be changed by an amendment to the bill when it is considered on the House floor. While Rep. Barton and other members of the Texas delegation remain dissatisfied, it is becoming increasingly likely that Congress will come up with the necessary appropriations to fund the project.