Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: October 2005
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held this hearing that featured the second panel of an earlier hearing that was not completed. This September 20 hearing focused on Climate Change and Economics, while the earlier hearing focused on the science of climate change.
Opening statements by the Members reiterated this focus for the hearing, not debating the science of climate change but instead focusing on potential solutions to global warming. Chairman Domenici (R-NM) opened the hearing by stating, “It is clear that something is happening with the Earth’s climate. I believe that it is prudent to heed the warnings we are hearing and begin to find ways of alleviating the human contribution to climate change.” Ranking Member Bingaman (D-NM) said that some argue against regulatory strategies by citing potential costs, but noted that there are many costs associated with inaction.
Witnesses were Dr. Anne Smith, Vice President of CRA International, Dr. Richard Morgenstern, senior fellow, Resources for the Future, Mr. Jason Grumet, Executive Director, National Commission on Energy Policy, and Dr. Howard Gruenspecht, Deputy Administrator, Energy Information Administration. Their full testimony is available on-line.
The majority of the testimony focused on analyzing the report prepared by the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP). Grumet explained that this report, released in December 2004, recommends incentives to developing and implementing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The commission recommended a carbon cap and trade program, with a ceiling on carbon prices to avoid extremes. Money raised by the system would fund research and development, and the incentive posed by the cap and trade program would encourage companies to use the new carbon-reduction technology.
Gruenspecht highlighted the findings of EIA’s analysis of the report. He noted that the NCEP recommendations would not stop carbon emissions, rather reduce their growth. He noted that the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2005 (S. 1151) introduced by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (D-CT) would create a much larger reduction in emissions than the NCEP recommendations.
Smith testified that breakthroughs are needed to find new technology, as relatively small reductions in emissions will not stop climate change. Creating carbon caps before technology is available is premature, she said. She stated that the top priority should be government-funded research and development and encouraging technology transfer to developing countries.
Morgenstern testified that commission recommendations are drastically different than the Kyoto Protocol. The goal of NCEP is to develop and deploy new technology, not to solve climate-change in the short-term, which is the goal of the Kyoto Protocol.
During the question and answer period, Grumet explained the difference between the NCEP system and one of government-funded research suggested by Smith. He noted that revenues from the cap-and-trade program would pay for R&D, sharing the burden of costs between the public and private sector. He stated that he believes it will takes tens of billions of dollars for technology and the government will not be able to fund that. Most of the rest of the questioning focused on implementing NCEP. While there was still skepticism about the best way to move forward, many Members agreed that NCEP was a good starting point.
-- Kasey White
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on September 28 on the use of science in environmental decision making. Although topics ranged from the ban on DDT to the Endangered Species Act, the majority of the hearing centered on global climate change. Author Michael Crichton was the lead witness, lauded for his scientific credentials (an M.D. from Harvard) by Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) while told by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that his testimony would “muddy the issue” as his views are at odds with the majority of scientists.
Crichton testified about the need for independent verification of research, implying that climate research is much less rigorous than double blind medical studies. He cited Michael Mann's “hockey stick” research as an example for the need for independent verification of research. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) countered him by submitting comments from Mann defending his research into the record. Crichton also talked about how predictions were not fact, questioning whether scientists should use predictive models since they are not immediately verifiable.
William Gray, former director of the National Hurricane Center, focused most of his testimony on how climate change is not human induced and those who believe it is "just don't understand how the Earth and atmosphere work." He was unable to present examples of peer-reviewed published research on his views when questioned by Senator Boxer. He stated that he doesn't believe that hurricane intensity has changed and that hurricane frequency in the Atlantic Ocean is changing due to mulitdecadal cycles.
Richard Benedick, President of the National Council for Science and the Environment, testified about his experience as the Reagan Administration's chief negotiator on the Montreal Protocol. He described how scientists and policymakers worked together on the treaty, making decisions “under conditions of risk and uncertainty.” He noted that not all environmental issues provide an early warning and cautioned the committee to “resist efforts by economic interests to demand conclusive evidence” before acting.
David Sandalow, Brookings Institution, spent most of his time refuting Gray and Crichton’s testimony and suggested that the Senate request a study from the National Academy of Sciences focused on extreme events. In later questioning, Crichton stated that he doesn't think NAS is credible to conduct such a study.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked about the extent to which funding influences research. Gray answered that there is lots of money if you are finding a human influence on climate change, and that he was unable to obtain NOAA funding after President Clinton was elected. Benedick noted that funding can affect findings and cited the tobacco industry as an example. He noted that Richard Lindzen, an MIT scientist known as a climate skeptic, does not have trouble getting funding. Inhofe concluded by noting that “DC is the city of hysteria” and that is how to get attention.
Full testimony and opening statements are available on-line.
-- Kasey White
The Senate Environment and Public Works committee held a hearing on the Kyoto Protocol on October 4. It was noted in nearly all of the opening statements that the U.S. rejected the protocol, primarily due to its economic effects and the lack of participation of developing countries, particularly China and India. Ranking Member James Jeffords (I-VT) suggested that the Senate should be looking at ways to join the international community in addressing climate change rather than analyzing the treaty.
Harlan Watson, U.S. Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative, U.S. Department of State, testified that the Administration has taken a four-part approach to climate change: voluntary greenhouse gas reduction policies, advancing the understanding of climate science, technology development, and international collaboration, such as the Asia- Pacific Partnership. In response to a question from Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), Watson stated that only 2 European Union (EU) countries are on track to meet their targets. Later discussions showed that only 4 countries appear likely to not make targets when using all available mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, such as the Clean Development Mechanism and emissions trading. When asked by Sen. Jeffords about the economic effect on participating countries, Watson noted that it was too early to tell.
Watson stated that President Bush committed to an 18% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity from 2002 levels by 2012 and they are ahead of schedule to meet that target. Greenhouse gas intensity is a ratio of tons of emissions per dollar of GDP. When questioned by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), he said that the U.S. would reduce intensity by 14% with business as usual due to economic growth and therefore the president's goal was a 4% reduction over business as usual. This level would still represent a growth in total emissions of 27% over 1990 levels.
In response to a question by Sen. Obama about the Administration’s position on climate change, Watson answered, “it is an important issue” and acknowledged a "human contribution to climate change." He continued by stating that while we know that global temperature has increased and that human activities increase greenhouse gas emissions, uncertainties remain.
The second panel testified about the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol. Lord Nigel Lawson, House of Lords, United Kingdom, stated that climate change is more an economic rather than a scientific issue. He highlighted findings of a recent report that the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t working. He questioned the science of climate change, stating his doubts about the objectivity of the scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His testimony was the opposite of Michael Grubb, from the Imperial College London, who cited other analyses that the Kyoto Protocol is working. He suggested that “the government throwing money at R&D” is not an effective solution to climate change. He explained that a market signal from a cap and trade program is necessary for businesses to reduce emissions. He stated that some technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already exist, and transferring these technologies to developing countries will be an important part of climate change mitigation.
Margo Thorning, American Council for Capital Formation, testified that the EU is not on track to meet reduction targets, mandatory schemes have negative effects on GDP and employment, emission trading system prices are rising, and an international trading system won’t work. She suggested encouraging technology transfer, nuclear power, and tax code changes supporting investment to address climate change.
Full opening statements of the committee members and the witness testimony can be found online.
-- Kasey White
The House Science Committee held a hearing on October 7 on hurricane forecasting, featuring testimony from Brigadier General David L. Johnson (ret.), Director of NOAA's National Weather Service and Dr. Max Mayfield, Director of the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center. The hearing had been rescheduled several times due to approaching hurricanes that required the service of the witnesses.
The witnesses said that the recent increase in hurricane activity in the Atlantic is attributable to a natural 25-40 year cycle and that increased hurricane activity will last at least another 10-20 years. The hearing charter cited a study published in Science indicating that hurricane intensity worldwide has increased since 1970, indicating a link between increasing sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity, but the witnesses did not specifically address it. The bulk of the hearing, however, focused on the contrast between the excellent prediction of Katrina’s path by NWS and the federal response to the disaster.
The full testimony and a webcast is available from the House Science Committee website.
-- Kasey White
Most of the Senators at this September 20 hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction used their opening remarks to praise NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) for accurately predicting the path of Hurricane Katrina. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) spoke passionately about the importance of the NWS and how he would fight efforts to limit its outreach, referring to efforts by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) to promote Accuweather, a commercial weather service company headquartered in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Max Mayfield, Director, National Hurricane Center, was the star of the hearing, explaining the predictions made in advance of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. He also stated that the heightened storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean since 1995 is a result of natural variability and is not due to global warming. Dr. Keith G. Blackwell, Associate Professor of Meteorology, Coastal Weather Center, University of South Alabama, testified that 5 day forecasts should not always be made public, as they often have considerable uncertainty and lead to public mistrust of forecasts. In contrast, 3 day forecasts are much more reliable. Blackwell also spoke about the need for additional research on predictions for storm surge, rainfall distribution, and hurricane size.
Dr. Marc L. Levitan, Director, Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, noted that the war against hurricane damage is “won in the offseason,” explaining that zoning and building codes are key to preventing human impacts from storms. Mr. Windell Curole, General Manager, South LaFourche Levee District, testified on the need to educate people on hurricane impacts so that they take action to leave when ordered to evacuate. Mr. C. Patrick Roberts, President, Florida Association of Broadcasters, spoke about the need for better cohesion between the federal, state, and local governments and citizens, in particular the need for an emergency alert system.
Although most of the questioning from Senators focused specifically on Hurricane Katrina, Senator Stevens (R-AK) noted that the first typhoon recorded in Alaska occurred in 2003. He asked Mayfield about the connection between climate change and hurricanes, noting that scientists in Alaska do not believe that there is a connection. Mayfield reiterated his belief that the recent increase in Atlantic storms is due to natural variability but noted that even without climate change impacts on storms, the U.S. needs to prepare for 10-20 years of additional strong Atlantic storms.
The full testimony of all of the witnesses is available on-line.
-- Kasey White
The House passed H.R. 3824, the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act sponsored by Rep. Pombo (R-CA), by a vote of 229-193 on September 29. Less than 2 weeks elapsed from the bill’s introduction to its passage.
Citing statistics that less than 1% of species have been recovered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Rep. Pombo declared the current ESA a failure. His bill would repeal the “critical habitat” program that protects lands necessary for species recovery, replacing it with a nonbinding recovery plans. The bill focuses on private property rights, providing funds to compensate landowners for the loss of use of their land due to the presence of endangered species. Provisions stipulate that if the federal government does not determine if private land development would adversely affect species within 180 days then development would be automatically approved.
Early versions of the bill eliminated protection for species that fall under the "threatened" status that often precedes an endangered listing, but an amendment by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) restored those protections.
The bill requires the Secretary of the Interior to define “what constitutes the best available scientific data.” The bill also states:
“To the extent that data compiled for a decision or action do not: (1) meet the criteria for the best available scientific data; (2) are not in compliance with OMB Guidance for compliance with Data Quality Act; (3) do not include any empirical data; or (4) are found in sources that have not been subject to peer review in a generally acceptable manner-- then the Secretary must undertake measures to ensure compliance with the criteria and/or guidance and may secure empirical data, seek appropriate peer review and reconsider the decision or action based on such compliance actions.”
Many in the environmental and scientific community have argued that these provisions weaken the role of science and favor empirical data over statistical models that are often used in wildlife management.
During the floor debate, a coalition led by Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) offered a substitute amendment to the bill that would keep some of the protections for species that the Pombo bill eliminated. The Miller-Boehlert amendment was defeated by a vote of 206 to 216.
The Senate is not likely to introduce legislation until early 2006, waiting on recommendations from a bipartisan group known as the Keystone Commission.
-- Kasey White
Gasoline Prices: Policies and Proposals (IB10134)
This updated report examines the effect of the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (H.R. 6), signed by President Bush August 8, on oil and gas prices. Passage of the Energy Bill appeared to have little immediate effect on oil and gasoline prices, even before the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The report found that a large number of factors combined to put pressure on gasoline prices, including increased world demand for crude oil and U.S. refinery capacity inadequate to supply gasoline to a recovering national economy. The war and continued violence in Iraq added uncertainty and a threat of supply disruption that added pressure particularly to the commodity futures markets.
- Mercury in the Environment: Sources and Health Risks (RL32420)
Concern about mercury in the environment has increased in recent years due to emerging evidence that exposure to low levels of mercury may harm the developing nervous systems of unborn children. At least five bills in the 109th Congress aim to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired electric utilities. The various proposals and a final regulation promulgated by the EPA on March 15 differ in how much and how soon emission reduction would be required, and in whether reductions would be achieved through controls at each plant or through a nationwide cap and trade system. The latter approach could allow individual plants to continue emitting current levels of mercury, potentially worsening conditions at nearby "hot spots." Analysis of competing proposals raises questions about the sources, fate, and toxicity of mercury in the environment.
Higher Education: Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Programs and Related Trends (GAO-06-114) This report presents information on (1) the number of federal programs funded in FY 2004 that were designed to increase the number of students and graduates pursuing STEM degrees and occupations or improve educational programs in STEM fields, and what agencies report about their effectiveness; (2) how the numbers, percentages, and characteristics of students, graduates, and employees in STEM fields have changed over the years; and (3) factors cited by educators and others as affecting students' decisions about pursing STEM degrees and occupations, and suggestions that have been made to encourage more participation.
Border Security: Strengthened Visa Process Would Benefit from Additional Management Actions by State and DHS (GAO-05-994T) This report examines the State Department’s and Department of Homeland Security’s progress in implementing changes to the visa process since 2002, in the areas of policy and guidance; consular resources, including staffing and training; and information sharing. It found that both agencies have taken many steps to strengthen the visa process as an antiterrorism tool. However, the report also highlights some additional issues that need to be addressed. For example, updating Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect recent policy changes; additional guidance on DHS staff's roles and responsibilities overseas; and increasing the number of experienced staff with the necessary language skills at key consular posts.
Environmental Information: Status of Federal Data Programs that Support Ecological Indicators (GAO-05-376)
This GAO study was requested in October, 2003 by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) in response to a 2002 Heinz Center report, "The State of the Nation's Ecosystems," that identified the key indicators necessary for monitoring ecosystem health and measuring the efficacy of environmental protection. The GAO report found that six of the 20 programs that had produced high quality environmental indicator data will not or may not be able to continue producing data of comparable quality, quantity and scope in the short- to medium-term. This potential loss of data was attributed to budgetary cutbacks and funding levels that have not kept pace with inflation. The remaining 14 programs, the report concluded, programs will continue to provide all of the types of data that they provided in 2002 at a comparable or higher level of availability and quality.
These reports are currently only available on the NAS website, but hard copies will be available shortly.
Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (ISBN: 0309100453). This congressionally requested report -- written by a 20-member committee that included university presidents, CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, and former presidential appointees -- makes four recommendations along with 20 implementation actions that federal policy-makers should take to create high-quality jobs and focus new science and technology (S&T) efforts on meeting the nation's need for clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Actions include improving K-12 science and math education: strengthening the nation’s investment in basic research; developing, recruiting, and retaining top students, scientists, and engineers from both the United States and abroad, and ensuring that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.
Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting
While electronic voting systems have improved, federal and state governments have not made the commitment necessary for e-voting to be widely used in future elections, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. More funding, research, and public education are required if e-voting is to become viable, said the report's authoring committee, which was co-chaired by two former governors. And because electronic voting systems, like all complex computer systems, are fallible and may be compromised -- whether deliberately or by accident -- backup systems will be needed in the event of malfunctions or allegations of fraud.
AAAS Comments on Export Rules
AAAS submitted comments on the Department of Defense proposed rule published in the Federal Register on July 12, 2005, to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). While AAAS recognizes DOD’s interest in protecting the unlawful transfer of technologies to certain nations, the Association believes that the OIG recommendations will further restrict the conduct of fundamental research and impede national security interests rather than protect them. All comments are posted on DOD's website (click on Case Number 2004-D010).
By restructuring the 1918 influenza virus, scientists have discovered the deadly disease was an avian flu that advanced directly from birds to humans. The 1918 pandemic killed as many as 50 million people worldwide. Scientists reconstructed the disease from samples from lung tissue from two American soldiers and an Alaskan woman who died of the highly infectious virus. Scientists published an analysis of the full genome sequence of the 1918 human influenza virus in Nature, and in Science, researchers describe how they used that sequence to recreate the virus and study its effects in mice – a unique venture between the two competing publications.
Full citations , Tumpey, T.M., et al, "Characterization of the Reconstructed 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic Virus," Science 7 October 2005: 77-80 and Taubenberger, J.K. et al, Characterization of the 1918 influenza virus polymerase genes, Nature, 6 October 2005, p 889.