Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: March 2007
With Democrats at the reins in Congress, the Administration acknowledging that global warming is “a serious problem,” religious groups and industry pushing for a solution, energy independence becoming intricately linked to national security, and gas prices rising, biofuels have become an instant superstar in the new energy milieu. Both the legislative and executive branches have been actively producing policy proposals, initiatives, and legislation to address biofuels innovation and production. Unlike climate change, biofuels have remained a bipartisan issue with broad political appeal.
In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush unveiled Twenty In Ten: Strengthening America's Energy Security, a new energy policy intended to reduce U.S. gas consumption by 20 percent in ten years. Along with improving efficiency, the President expects to reach this goal with a mandatory fuel standard requiring 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017. The Administration’s 2007 Farm Bill proposal also features biofuels, providing an additional $1.6 billion for cellulosic ethanol energy research over the next 10 years and guaranteed loans for cellulosic projects. In addition, the Administration has formed an agreement with Brazil to increase ethanol production in the Caribbean and Central America.
The President’s 2008 budget includes a 26 percent hike from the 2007 level for the Advanced Energy Initiative, $179 million of which is allotted to the Biofuels Initiative. In an effort to align the Department of Energy’s (DOE) biofuel funding with the Advanced Energy Initiative, the DOE announced in late February that it will invest in six biorefinery projects over the next four years at a cost of $385 million. Some, however, are concerned the President’s budget does not reflect the increases in the Farm Bill proposal and is not bold enough to meet the President’s Twenty In Ten goal.
Meanwhile bipartisan support for biofuels in the House and Senate has produced a slew of bills to increase funding and establish favorable policies for biofuels innovation. The biofuels industry’s ability to bring jobs into rural America while reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and contributions to climate change has many legislators clamoring to help the young industry blossom. Recently, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) introduced the Cellulosic Ethanol Incentive Act of 2007 (S.386), which would require the Clean Air Act to establish a higher cellulosic ethanol fuel standard by 2030. Joining him is House Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) who unveiled his own bill, the PROGRESS Act, that would expand biofuels infrastructure and investment. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have introduced the American Fuels Act of 2007 (S.23), meant to increase biofuels production, improve biofuels distribution systems, and promote biofuels-capable vehicles through tax credits. In late March Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Domenici (R-NM) introduced the Biofuels for Energy Security and Transportation Act of 2007 (S.987) calling for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, increased R&D funding, and several new bioenergy research centers throughout the country.
Inefficient and expensive distribution infrastructure that relies on trucking and railing ethanol to destinations has been a major concern for many industry leaders and academics that fear a lack of appropriate infrastructure might cripple the industry. Recent efforts have been made to encourage biofuels technology that is compatible with existing infrastructure. H.R. 547, The Advanced Fuels Infrastructure Research and Development Act, passed by the House on February 8, aims to address infrastructure issues by encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DOE, and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to initiate R&D on biofuels that are compatible with current infrastructure.
Congress is even finding itself working out turf skirmishes over whose lot biofuels legislation will fall. Recently the House Agriculture Committee has begun to challenge the Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction over loan guarantees for cellulosic ethanol research and production. The Agriculture Committee, chaired by Collin Peterson (D-MN), hopes to give the Agriculture Department oversight of cellulosic ethanol loan guarantees because he believes that the DOE, under Energy and Commerce’s jurisdiction, has been unable to adequately manage the task.
Eager to join the biofuels frenzy, the ever-growing list of presidential candidates is also rallying around the biofuels issue. Presidential hopefuls of every political calling are declaring themselves supporters of biofuels solutions. The Iowa Corn Growers and the Iowa Renewable Association have initiated plans to educate presidential candidates on the issues and monitor candidates’ biofuels policies. Candidates’ views on biofuels tax credits and tariffs are high on the watch list for groups aimed to protect the young industry’s market advantage.
States legislators, who have been quicker to act than their federal counterparts, have expanded their energy portfolios to include more renewable energy sources. In Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty just signed a bill requiring his state to obtain 25 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2025. Along with a number of others, Oregon and Colorado legislators recently approved similar measures.
While legislators and administrators seem ready to support biofuels production, some in the private sector have been less zealous. Among them is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who released a statement expressing their preference for cellulosic ethanol over corn-derived ethanol because cellulose does not remove grain from the food industry or raise corn prices. They have urged Congress to end the 51 cent per gallon ethanol blenders’ tax credit and the 54 cent per gallon import tariff that protect domestic ethanol production when they expire in 2009. Key agriculture and energy executives speaking at the USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum in early March were skeptical about the ability of corn to achieve the Administration’s goals and voiced concerns over the rising price of corn for food due to increased corn demand for ethanol production.
Though corn is currently the star of the biofuels industry, many -- including some in DOE -- predict that it is not the industry’s future. Many have spoken out against using food grains to fuel the U.S. economy in the face of poverty and starvation abroad. In Mexico, people are protesting the high price of corn tortillas, a national staple. Advocates of cellulosic ethanol and new biofuels such as biobutanol argue that the U.S. biofuels industry should turn to non-corn based ethanol if it is to meet the nation’s energy demand and reduce competition with the food industry.
-- Lina Karaoglanova
In the flurry of congressional hearings on climate change and energy efficiency, one technology emerging on the legislative landscape is carbon capture and sequestration. The concept of carbon capture and sequestration is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by separating carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion exhaust, compressing it, and pumping it deep underground into terrestrial or marine geologic formations for long-term storage. This would keep the carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, effectively reducing the impact that energy production has on global warming. Carbon capture and sequestration is currently done on a small scale throughout industry, for commercial rather than climate change mitigation purposes. The potential for carbon capture and sequestration on a large scale has been the focus of several recent hearings and bills.
On March 6 the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality held one of their climate change hearings on the possibilities for carbon capture and sequestration. The committee discussed the existing technology, the state of research and development, the expected costs, and the regulatory framework that must be developed for carbon capture and sequestration to move forward on a large scale. The committee was generally supportive of moving forward with carbon capture and sequestration research and development, describing it as an important technology for maintaining industry’s ability to use coal in a carbon-limited world.
Members expressed concerns about maintaining American competitiveness and jobs, and the need to develop a regulatory framework for carbon sequestration. Mr. Wehrum, a witness from the EPA, explained that regulating sequestration in geologic formations would fall under the auspices of the Underground Injection Control Program in the Water Control Division, and that the EPA was beginning to develop a set of recommendations for acceptable carbon capture and sequestration practices. At the time, however, the EPA was waiting to hear the outcome of the Supreme Court decision on whether or not carbon dioxide emissions must be regulated under the Clean Air Act; on April 2 the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the EPA does has the authority to regulate.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on March 22 to hear from the co-chairs of a new MIT report on coal. The report, The Future of Coal: Options in a Carbon-Constrained World, describes the future role of coal as an energy source if carbon emissions become regulated. The report stresses that in order for coal to continue to be used for electricity production in a carbon-constrained world, realizable large-scale carbon capture and sequestration technology must be developed. The importance of coal industries in many congressional districts combined with the potential of impending carbon restrictions has helped fuel support for carbon capture and sequestration. Several members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee voiced their support for expanded research and development, and asked that attention be paid to garnering international support and involvement.
Following the committee hearing Sen. Bingaman (D-NM), the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Domenici (R-NM), the ranking member, introduced S.962, the Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 2007. The bill expands the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include large-scale tests of carbon sequestration in a variety of geologic formations. To carry out these activities, the bill authorizes $90 million for FY 2007, increasing to $120 million in 2009.
Sens. Salazar (D-CO) and Bunning (R-KY), also on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, previously introduced another bill, S. 731, The National Carbon Dioxide Storage Capacity Assessment Act of 2007. Rep. Gordon (D-TN), the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, introduced the House counterpart of this bill, H.R. 1267. The bills call for a systematic evaluation of all potential geologic storage formations throughout the nation, to be carried out by the United States Geological Survey, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior.
Department of Energy support of carbon capture and sequestration technology also got a boost when the Senate included an amendment (S.Amdt. 599) in the budget resolution. The amendment, proposed by Sen. Obama (D-IL), increases DOE funding for FY 2008 by $200 million for demonstration and monitoring of carbon capture and sequestration technology.
-- Kim Popendorf
Measuring Progress of NCLB
Shortly before the Spring Recess, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing to address whether Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) assessments, a hallmark of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), continue to be an adequate indicator of a student’s—and ultimately a school’s—achievement. Though the witnesses were all careful to praise the original intent of NCLB as an important tool for states, districts, and schools to assess proficiency and reveal gaps in performance, they also were united in the opinion that AYP had served its purpose and that multiple mechanisms for measuring proficiency were now needed to allow students and schools to progress further.
According to the AYP requirement in NCLB, each state is to establish a standard for assessing student proficiency in reading and mathematics for grades 3 through 8, with a goal of reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2013-2014. These AYP tests allow schools to measure student performance at a single moment in time, calculate the overall performance of a single grade and then compare whether that same grade continues to meet performance requirements over time. In other words, each fourth grade AYP is measured against last year’s fourth grade assessment.
As the witnesses noted, any single grade that fails results in the entire school failing to meet the AYP standard, regardless of the proficiency levels of the rest of the school. Being labeled as a school “in need of improvement” even for one year means that the school, in order to be eligible for federal funding, must demonstrate that they are implementing a range of initiatives to raise proficiency levels for all students, regardless of whether the individual students are already proficient.
It is this “status model” that the witnesses argue does not fully capture the rate of progress of any given cohort of students. For example, one cohort may perform below standard in one grade and again in the next, but the tests would not reveal any incremental gains made (e.g., shifting from 60 percent failure to 30 percent failure) between years.
Another area of concern expressed by witnesses is that the existing AYP status model does not adjust for problems that are out of the schools’ control. For example, Peter McWalters, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education for the state of Rhode Island, noted that testing all students means that non-native born children newly arrived to the United States are being tested alongside native born kids. McWalters argued that this unfairly skews the test results, especially for schools in poorer communities - one of the sectors that NCLB was expressly created to assist. If one were to also take into account the movement of families across districts and states, schools could be passing one year and failing the next, thus compounding the problem.
Chrys Dougherty, Director of Research for the National Center for Educational Accountability, argued that schools should be measured in multiple ways using “growth models.” Dougherty and other witnesses stated that longitudinal data sets that allow schools to measure the rate of progress by individual student and by cohort group rather than measuring the overall schools performance in a given year would help to strengthen the intent of NCLB to provide a rigorous education for every child. This would permit schools to show that they are indeed meeting proficiency levels in some areas while revealing areas where improvements could be made through tailored programs.
According to Dougherty there are 27 states that are ready to implement such growth models and he noted that the Department of Education as begun to experiment with this concept by initiating a pilot program in ten states. Valerie Woodruff, Secretary of Education for the Delaware Department of Education, testified that her state began utilizing proficiency measurements in1998, long before NCLB was signed into law. She concurred with the other witnesses that growth models are a better mechanism for tracking performance over time and that the lessons learned by the state over the years has caused them to launch their own growth models as a tool for developing curriculum and setting state assessment plans.
Chairman George Miller (D-CA), one of the original authors of NCLB, stated in his opening remarks that he recognizes that “there are some legitimate concerns with the current accountability system” and that his goal is to improve the “integrity” of the Act. The committee plans to continue to analyze a range of topics associated with NCLB’s reauthorization and will hold a field hearing on local perspectives during the recess.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by NCLB author Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), also has been conducting hearings on the reauthorization of the five-year old act. In a March 26 editorial in the Washington Post, Kennedy stated that Congress needs to “help states develop better assessments to track the progress and growth of all students, including students for whom English is a second language and students with special needs.”
Other Members of Congress have also begun to weigh in and a number of bills have been introduced in both chambers to amend the legislation to allow for flexibility to utilize different assessment models, provide for exemptions for certain students to not participate in AYP, and to lower the overall percentage of students that must participate in AYP to qualify a school as meeting NCLB requirements.
--- Joanne Carney
Senate leaders are intent to change the funding and structure of agricultural research, though which of the competing proposals will be adopted is yet to be seen. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a March 7 hearing on the future of the nation’s agricultural research program, with witnesses debating the comparative role of competitively-awarded grants versus formula-funded research.
Currently, the bulk of USDA research is conducted internally at the 100 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs scattered throughout the United States. In USDA’s FY 2008 budget request, for example, 73 percent of R&D funding would go to support intramural research.
The remaining external research funds flow through the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). Within CSREES, some funds are allocated by formula to agricultural experiment stations through the Hatch Act, and some are awarded competitively. The National Research Initiative (NRI) is the largest competitive program offered through CSREES.
Competition for the external funds is fierce; USDA funded only about 16 percent of the 2,312 grant proposals it received from external scientists in NRI during FY 2006; a lower success rate than the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Jeffrey D. Armstrong, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, testified on a plan developed by a National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges panel that he led. CREATE-21 recommends that future funding increases for USDA research be distributed through competitively-awarded, peer-reviewed grants. But the plan also calls for stable funding of existing intramural research units at USDA.
William Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University, testified on behalf of a USDA-requested task force that he headed. The task force report, released in 2004, recommended establishing one or more national institutes focused on disciplines important to the progress of food and agriculture science. Legislation to create a National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), reflective of these recommendations, was introduced in the both chambers in the 109th Congress but did not advance. Key supporters include Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) and House Committee on Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN).
Meanwhile, the USDA has developed some restructuring plans of its own contained in the Administration’s proposed farm bill. At the hearing, Gale Buchanan, undersecretary for research, education and economics, outlined these plans to consolidate the department’s ARS and the CSREES into a single agency. Buchanan testified on the need for a “balanced portfolio,” stating that while competitive research will be the future, there is still a role for formula-funded and internal research. Chairman Harkin was skeptical of the proposed consolidation effort, noting that a similar effort had been tried in the late 1970s and later abandoned.
Though they differed in their approaches, all the witnesses agreed that the nation’s agricultural research programs needs more money, better coordination and more focus on competitive grants. AAAS CEO Alan Leshner testified on the agency’s funding constraints. Under the Administration’s proposed FY 2008 budget, USDA’s R&D budget would fall 10.8 percent from its 2007 final appropriation to $2.0 billion, Leshner said, continuing a recent significant decline in research spending by the agriculture department. Danforth noted increasing external support is not a new idea; there have been at least five studies over the past thirty years arguing for more competitive, merit-based grants in agricultural research but “traditions are hard to change and their recommendations have been mostly ignored.”
--- Kasey White
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007, sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member Tom Davis (R-VA), Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), passed the House in mid-March amidst new hearings and reports addressing the politicization of government science. The bill now awaits consideration in the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where it faces an uphill battle.
The act extends whistleblower rights to government scientists and national security employees and clearly defines the rights of government scientists who report political interference in scientific findings. The legislation identifies specific protections for scientific freedom including guards against censorship, obstruction of dissemination, and misrepresentation of federal research results. Under H.R. 985 “abuse of authority” is defined as “any action that compromises the validity or accuracy of federally funded research or analysis; the dissemination of false or misleading scientific, medical, or technical information; any action that restricts or prevents an employee or any person performing federally funded research or analysis from publishing in peer-reviewed journals or other scientific publications or making oral presentations at professional society meetings or other meetings of their peers.”
The bill's passage did not slow the torrent of hearings exploring political interference in science that continue to take place on the Hill. (See February 2007 STC newsletter for information on previous hearings.) The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held yet another hearing on politicization of climate science on March 19, exploring new documentation provided by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and hearing from former CEQ Chief of Staff Philip Cooney and NASA scientist James E. Hansen.
Cooney’s past employment as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and post-White House Exxon Mobil employment were popular topics of discussion. Cooney defended his actions, saying that he had based his edits of climate change documents on the National Academy of Sciences’ 2001 report, “Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Key Questions,” and the President’s strategic plan when grilled by several members for allegedly promoting API’s agenda of manufacturing uncertainty about climate science.
Meanwhile, other members focused on Dr. Hansen’s claims of political interference with the dissemination of his results, noting that while criticizing the administration for politically censoring his work, Dr. Hansen accepted a $250,000 award from the Heinz Foundation and supported Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Hansen’s more than 1,400 media citations in 2006 puzzled Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who could not reconcile the large number with Hansen’s claims of being silenced.
A week later, the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held its own hearing to address politicization of science. While many of the Democrats claimed that the current administration has been politicizing science, the Republicans responded that the Clinton administration had also interfered with scientists. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that the “so-called scientific consensus” is dismissing valid scientific arguments in the public debate and reducing funding for “skeptics” in government agencies, something he called truly “unscientific and arrogant.”
Panelist Dr. James J. McCarthy, though agreeing that science is evolving and should always be open to change, noted that skeptics often use material found in unpublished or published and highly disputed papers and therefore should not be given equal weight. McCarthy and Tarek Maassarani of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) both voiced their support for the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 and agreed that scientists should have the final say in the research that is published under their names.
Maassarani testified on a GAP report, Redacting the Science of Climate Change, that was released at the hearing. The report claims that the Administration has been using its political appointees to mold messages coming out of agencies releasing scientific research and that there is widespread political interference in climate science media communications at NASA, NOAA, USGS and other agencies. While the report discovered no evidence of direct interference in climate change research, it concluded that restrictive media communication policies and practices within government agencies have been escalating. The GAP report makes recommendations to improve media policies within agencies including provisions to keep scientists involved in every level of the editorial and peer-review processes.
Soon after the hearing on March 29th, the Department of Commerce (DOC) released its long-awaited new public communication policy that establishes procedures to protect government scientists and encourage research openness. The policy, which will affect the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), states that scientists “may speak to the media and the public about their official work and freely and openly discuss scientific and technical ideas, approaches, findings, and conclusions based on their official work.” In a section called Fundamental Research Communications, the new policy distinguishes between scientific research that may be shared with the media without internal approval and regular communications on budget, policy or management issues--information that still must go through the official channels.
House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Brad Miller (D-NC) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Nick Lampson (D-TX) voiced their general support for the policy in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gutierrez but have some concerns. In particular, they find the non-official communications section stipulating a two week pre-approval process for personal views too restrictive of scientists’ rights to free speech.
Though most of the discussion on political interference with science has focused on climate change research, a recent report by the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General expands these allegations to endangered species protection. At the request of House Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV), the DOI Inspector General released a report that found Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie A. MacDonald had repeatedly interfered with field scientists to minimize protections for endangered species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions. Though the report states that there was “no illegal activity on her part,” it found that she violated the Code of Federal Regulations because of the appearance of preferential treatment and use of nonpublic information and referred the case to the DOI for "potential administrative action."
Chairman Rahall has said he plans to hold a hearing in May on the politics of endangered species.
-- Lina Karaoglanova and Kasey White
Scientists heralded the reauthorization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2002, with its ambitious plans to double the agency’s budget over five years. But the tight budget environment that followed prevented the increases from coming to fruition. A new reauthorization for the agency has resurfaced on the congressional agenda, with the House Research and Science Education Subcommittee holding two hearings at the end of March on the topic. Several key issues that the committee focused on are encouraging young investigators, furthering partnerships between universities and industry, supporting interdisciplinary research, and improving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for grades K-16. A draft bill covering many of these topics is circulating, but has yet to be introduced.
The committee first heard from Dr. Bement, director of the NSF, and Dr. Beering, chairman of the National Science Board, and at their second hearing from an array of outside witnesses considered NSF “consumers.” Witnesses at both hearings emphasized that funding for early career researchers is crucial to their success and retention in the field. Preventing prospective researchers from getting lost at the last step as they try to establish themselves on the tenure track is crucial given the difficulty of “filling the pipeline” with people who are committed to science research and education.
It was noted that new investigators have a lower NSF funding success rate than overall NSF grant applications, and that a lack of funding early on can effectively end a career. The NSF’s flagship program for young investigators is the CAREER program, which annually awards 400 five-year grants and is one of the main sources of funding for new investigators to set up the infrastructure and instrumentation that can be key to success. While the program has been lauded as an important funding tool, there was general agreement among the witnesses that more should be done. The draft bill suggests creating a new pilot program that would award one-year grants to new researchers to help them improve proposals that initially were not selected for funding.
The hearings also highlighted a recommendation from the oft-cited “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report, that partnering academic research interests with industry needs is an effective means of sustaining American competitiveness. To address this recommendation, the committee suggested that the NSF give special consideration to proposals that involve partnerships between academia and industry when evaluating the “broader impacts” of a proposal. In particular, the committee encouraged partnerships with high technology fields and cost-sharing by the industry partners. Dr. Catherine Hunt, president of the American Chemical Society, suggested at the second hearing that industry partnerships create a positive feedback cycle and that once researchers see the benefits from existing partnerships they will be encouraged to seek out more.
The importance of high technology innovation not withstanding, the hearings also emphasized the central role that NSF has traditionally played in supporting basic research. Applied research is more readily supported by the private sector to meet short term economic interests, while NSF support continues to be crucial to longer-term, higher-risk basic research from which a wealth of innovations and applications has emerged.
During both hearings much discussion centered on the necessity of improving STEM education at all levels. Dr. Bement described the need for a “bottom-up” recommitment to STEM education from families and communities up through educational institutions, and Dr. Hunt recommended that STEM education be supported at the same level as scientific research in the NSF. Several witnesses vouched for the effectiveness of programs that bring students, from elementary schoolers through undergraduates, into research environments and give them the opportunity to see science in action and work alongside researchers. Along with sparking the interest of students, primary goals for STEM education include improving the proficiency of current STEM educators and filling the pipeline with more students committed to STEM education and research. For NSF programs that support STEM education, the committee has suggested that successfully-evaluated programs should continue to be funded without re-competing in the usual grant process.
The issue of cost-sharing for research proposals was also discussed at both hearings. Dr. Bement suggested that while cost-sharing is important it can also put some applicants at a severe disadvantage if their institution is not able to support it. Dr. Carlos Meriles, assistant physics professor at City College of New York, reiterated the difficulty that cost-sharing poses to some institutions, and pointed out that the NSF is much better suited for funding basic research than universities, which, like businesses, must be more risk-averse. The committee is interested in a report evaluating the agency’s cost-sharing policies and their impacts.
-- Kim Popendorf
The Senate is set to debate two stem cell bills on April 10: S. 5, which is this year’s version of the bill Bush vetoed last year, and S. 30, an alternate put forth by Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). Coleman and Isakson combined their separate bills into a measure that would encourage research to create new stem cell lines without destroying human embryos, research that is already eligible for NIH funding.
The political debate continues to center on alternatives that do not raise the same ethical concerns as embryonic stem cells. But the field of stem cell research is still a relatively young one and, as one recent episode suggests, even the oft-cited work on adult stem cells has hit some snags. New Scientist Magazine raised concerns that the research findings of Dr. Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis have been irreproducible in many laboratories including her own. Verfaillie’s work, published in 2002, was among the first to demonstrate that adult stem cells could have the ability to differentiate into a multitude of cell types, similar to embryonic stem cells.
New Scientist also reported that images used in the two original articles were identical despite reportedly being different cell types isolated from different mice. Verfaillie has acknowledged the flaws in her photos but said she stands by her research results.
The Senate has allocated twenty hours for debate over the two bills. Proponents of S. 5 are confident that they have sufficient votes to pass the legislation. The President, however, has reiterated his intention of vetoing the legislation.
--- Dianalee McKnight and Erin Heath
Ethanol and Biofuels: Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Market Constraints Related to Expanded Production (RL33928)
This report examines the American biofuel industry’s ability to meet the country’s escalating fuel demand. The report concludes that reaching high goals of ethanol production, most of which is corn-derived, would require more corn than is currently produced in America. In addition, the report suggests that biofuel production would have to shift from grain crops to other sources such as cellulosic biomass to keep up with demand, though the technologies required for this shift have not yet matured. The report underscores how environmental impacts of corn production, the large amounts of energy and water it demands, and its infrastructure limitations constrain the industry.
Industrial Competitiveness and Technological Advancement: Debate over Government Policy (RL33528)
This report examines the role of the federal government in technology development and the competitiveness of U.S. industry. The report outlines recent trends in legislation, university and private sector cooperation, and R&D funding as well as the divergent strategies used by the Clinton and Bush Administration to encourage innovation.
The Department of Energy: Key Steps Needed to Help Ensure the Success of the New Loan Guarantee Program for Innovative Technologies by Better Managing Its Financial Risk (GAO-07-339R)
This report concludes that the DOE’s approval of a new loan guarantee program (LGP) raises questions about whether this program and its financial risks will be well managed. The report suggests that DOE neglected to develop basic management policies, including vital regulations for project selection criteria, before it issued solicitations for project proposals. In addition, the DOE failed to properly estimate all program costs. The report suggests that the DOE institute policies and procedures for lender and loan selection, lender and loan monitoring, and subsidy and administrative cost estimation. Furthermore, the report recommends a clarification of the program goals and objectives that can be linked to outcomes and determine program effectiveness.
Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy: Preliminary Observations on Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (GAO-07-551T)
This report examines current CAFE Standards and plans proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update and reform standards. The NHTSA has requested to modify current CAFE Standards for cars to reflect recent changes made to light truck standards, such as including size as a factor. In addition to the suggestions made by NHTSA, the GAO identified further improvements for CAFE Standards such as harmonizing light truck and car standards and reassessing the lifetimes of standards.
Global Environmental Health in the 21st Century: From Governmental Regulation to Corporate Social Responsibility (ISBN: 10: 0-309-10380-0)
This report explores the effectiveness of current environmental management systems (EMS) and underscores the circumstances under which EMS achieve the most environmental improvement. The authors note that domestic and multi-national companies are taking the initiative in creating EMS in order to develop stronger relationships with consumers and stakeholders concerned about environmental health. Nevertheless, the report stresses that government regulations play an essential role in successful EMS since voluntary programs lack third-party validation, dissemination, tracking and monitoring mechanisms. The report also points out the importance of global environmental standards and cooperation.
The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet (ISBN-10: 0-309-10676-1)
This report states that the emerging field of metagenomics, where the DNA of entire communities of microbes is studied simultaneously, presents the greatest opportunity – perhaps since the invention of the microscope – to revolutionize understanding of the microbial world. Metagenomics studies begin by extracting DNA from all the microbes living in a particular environmental sample – which could be thousands or even millions of organisms – to create a "library" that includes the genomes of all the microbes found in a habitat, the natural environment of the organisms. The report calls for a new Global Metagenomics Initiative to drive advances in the field in the same way that the Human Genome Project advanced the mapping of our genetic code.
NSTC Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology
Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States for the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy (ORPP)
This plan, developed by the Administration with input from the scientific community, is intended to guide ocean research and facilities for the next decade. Twenty research priorities have been identified under the overarching central themes of understanding and capability to forecast ocean processes and phenomena, scientific support for ecosystem-based management, and targeted deployment of an ocean observing system. These research priorities are oriented around interactions between the oceans and society in themes such as stewardship of natural and cultural ocean resources, increasing resilience to natural hazards, the ocean’s role in climate change, and enhancing human health. The FY 2008 budget request includes $20 million for the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey to implement the plan.
- CEQ Committee on Ocean Policy
U.S. Ocean Action Plan Implementation January 2007 Update
This report briefly describes the status of each of the 88 actions and sub-actions outlined in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan (OAP), which was released in December 2004 in response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report. The document reports meeting 73 of the 88 OAP commitment for actions and nearly meeting the commitments in 4 larger multi-action items. 10 of the 11 ongoing actions are proceeding on schedule.
- Joint Ocean Commission
U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card 2006
The Joint Ocean Commission, a partnership of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commissions, released a report card that shows little progress fulfilling the recommendations made by those groups. An overall C- was given for 2006, with “new funding for ocean policy and programs” given an F.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Future of Coal: Options in a Carbon-Constrained World
This report describes the future role of coal as an energy source if carbon emissions become regulated. The report examines current and proposed coal power technologies and their costs, including carbon capture and sequestration. A key conclusion of the report is that if a cost is implemented for carbon emissions, then continued coal use requires the development of realizable carbon capture and sequestration technologies, and it suggests that large-scale carbon sequestration tests should be begun immediately. The report also stresses the importance of continued research and development in a broad range of coal technologies, rather than focusing funding and efforts in any single technology such as IGCC power plants.
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AAAS CEO Testifies Before Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on March 7, stressing the importance of investing in agricultural research. Noting a recent decrease in federal funding, Dr. Leshner warned, "the biggest constrain on scientific progress is the lack of sufficient resources needed to support research."
AAAS Resources Available
Visit the AAAS website to view a new S&T Legislation Tracker with updates on bills relating to climate change, stem cell research, education, innovation and more.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
"The Realities of Middle Eastern Oil"
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 4:00 pm Reception, 4:30 pm Presentation and Discussion
AAAS Headquarters, Second Floor Auditorium
1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005
This lecture will feature Robert E. Ebel, who serves as Senior Advisor and Chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Energy Program, where he
provides analysis on world oil and energy issues, with particular
emphasis on the former
Science, Innovation, and the FY 2008 R&D Budget
Tuesday April 24, 2007; 12:00-1:30 pm
The Capitol Hill Club
300 First Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003
AAAS, in conjunction with the House R&D Caucus, invites you to a congressional luncheon briefing that will focus on innovation proposals; the impacts of the budget proposal on the major R&D agencies; historical R&D trends; and the political outlook for R&D in the appropriations process. R&D Caucus co-chairs Rep. Judy Biggert and Rep. Rush Holt will provide opening remarks, and Kei Koizumi, Director, AAAS R&D Budget & Policy Program, will provide an overview of research and development in the FY 2008 budget request. RSVP via email or phone (202/326-6789).
AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
May 3, 2007 8:00 AM - May 4, 2007 3:30 PM
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
This year's program will include sessions on the budgetary and policy context for research and development in 2008, states' expanding roles in science and technology, building capacity in developing nations, surveillance and privacy, pharmaceutical and biotechnology R&D, and sequestered research. Keynote speakers include John H. Marburger, III, Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Rear Admiral Jay M. Cohen, USN (Ret.), Under Secretary for Science and Technology, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Sherwood Boehlert, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; former Chairman, House Committee on Science. For an up-to-date agenda, fees, and online registration materials, please visit the forum website.
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Researchers have found that decreases in the number of 11 species of large sharks in the northwest Atlantic has cascading effects that culminate in a sharp decline in scallop, clam, oyster, and other shellfish populations. The big sharks usually eat smaller sharks, rays and skates, but with the predator numbers in decline, the researchers found that populations rose for most of the smaller species they examined. That, in turn, has led to a decrease in the populations that they prey on—shellfish and other animals found lower in the oceanic food web.
Myers, Ransom A, Julia K. Baum, Travis D. Shepherd, Sean P. Powers, and Charles H. Peterson, "Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean," 30 March 2007, Science, pp.1846-1850.
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