Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
As fiscal year 2010 begins, only one bill has been completed. President Obama signed the bill funding the Legislative Branch into law on September 30, and it includes a continuing resolution (CR) to extend FY 2009 funding levels for all other agencies until October 31.
The Senate has completed half of its appropriations bill, almost catching up with the House, which passed all twelve before the August recess (see August STC newsletter).
Conference negotiations on the Energy and Water Development bill have been completed, and the House has passed the compromise version. A Senate vote is expected shortly and then the bill will be on its way to President Obama for his signature. The bill provides $4.9 billion for Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, an increase of 2.7 percent ($131 million) over FY 2009 levels. The Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), will recieve a $15 million transfer from the Office of Science. The Administration requested $10 million for ARPA-E. DOE requested $280 million for eight Energy Innovation Hubs, but appropriators only provided funding for three hubs at $22 million each. Conference negotiations on the Agriculture bill have also been completed.
The Senate passed its Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R.2996) on September 24. The major R&D units funded in this bill are the U.S. Geological Survey ($1.1 billion for Surveys, Investigations and Research, $1.4 million less than the House); the Environmental Protection Agency ($843 million for Science and Technology, $6.85 million less than the House); the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ($307 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, $1.6 million less than the House); and the Smithsonian Institution ($759 million in total, $14.8 million less than the House).
On September 17, the Senate passed the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill for FY 2010 (H.R.3288). The Department of Transportation, which conducts most of the R&D funded by this bill (estimated at $939 million based on the President's request for FY 2010), would receive an overall total of $100.1 billion, $1.3 billion less than the House version of the bill and $2.2 billion less than the President's request.
Conferences for the Transportation and Environment bills are underway, as are negotiations on the Homeland Security and Agriculture bills.
For an update on the current status of appropriations, including the full text of AAAS Report XXXIV: Research and Development FY 2010, see the AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
-- Patrick Clemins and Kasey White
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Foreign Relations Chair John Kerry (D-MA) released their long-awaited climate change bill, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S.1733, on September 30. The bill sets targets for short-term reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, compared to 17 percent in the House Waxman-Markey bill [see STC April, May, June 2009]. Like the House bill (H.R. 2454), S. 1733 would cut global GHG by 83 percent in 2050.
The bill would reduce emissions by creating a cap-and-trade program where polluters can buy and sell a finite number of allowances. Tradable allowances would help keep energy prices low by allowing polluters to seek the most cost effective way of reducing emissions. The total number of allowances equals the combined number of carbon permits and offsets. Permits are equivalent to a deed that allows companies to use an allowance, whereas offsets provide another cost avenue to mitigate emissions. Each allowance is equal to one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent. (This bill would reduce various greenhouse gases, not just CO2.) The allowance system would help create cleaner energy, prevent deforestation, and support domestic and foreign adaptation efforts. Sen. Boxer stated that 70 percent of allowances would benefit consumers. However, the draft does not detail how emissions allowances will be distributed.
In an effort to limit price volatility of allowances, the bill would create a price collar. At a September 15 Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources hearing, Jason Grumet from the Bipartisan Policy Center testified that a price collar sets a price floor and ceiling per allowance. The collar's price floor, which is $11 per ton of CO2 equivalent emitted, would prompt clean technology innovation as companies try to avoid the cost of emissions. A price ceiling of $28 would prevent damage to the economy due to costly energy production. If the allowance price reached the price ceiling then permits from an emergency reserve would be auctioned to maintain the permit supply. The price collar would be ratcheted up five percent above the cost of inflation until 2018. After 2018, the collar would increase by seven percent a year. Furthermore, the bill provides the carbon market with two billion offsets in addition to the carbon permits.
There are various research and development (R&D) supporting initiatives also within the Senate bill. Research institutions that help meet the goals of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and regional energy innovation hubs would distribute emission allowances and, thus, receive funding. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would provide grants to support new energy technology R&D in an effort to reduce U.S. emissions and dependence on foreign energy. Also, the EPA would be mandated to provide funds, dedicated to research, to a nonprofit water research organization to help utilities adapt to climate change. The bill does not preclude the EPA from regulating CO2.
The Senate bill calls on the Presidet to create A National Climate Change Adaptation Program and Service to aid in climate change adaptation. The National Climate Service, which would produce and distribute national and regional information relating to various aspects of climate change, would be created and housed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Moreover, the bill would create an interagency Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel, which would be chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. To help health professionals respond to impacts on human health as a result of climate change, a national strategic action plan would be created.
Yearly, the Secretary of State would provide Congress with information on the top five GHG emitting non-Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries. Every four years, the EPA would present Congress with a report detailing the newest climate change science, the ability to monitor and substantiate GHG reductions, domestic and international progress in reducing GHG, and how to best continue reducing GHGs.
Committee consideration of the bill is expected to begin in late October. Some Senators will likely push for more nuclear energy and carbon capture provisions in the bill. No time frame has been set before the bill reaches the full Senate floor.
-- Kasey White and Phillip Chalker
The practice of ghostwriting in medical journals—where medical writers, often sponsored by biotech companies, write an article that bears a scientist's name—has the attention of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). Grassley is highly interested in conflicts of interest among medical professionals and researchers, and he has written a letter to NIH asking the agency for information on its policies and practices related to ghostwriting. This follows his July letter to eight medical journals on the same topic.
Recently, court papers uncovered in a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Wyeth show that ghostwriters paid by the company played a large role in the production of 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. The articles ran in 18 medical journals from 1998 to 2005. Hormone replacement therapy became controversial after scientists halted a major federal study on it because they found that menopausal women who took certain hormones faced an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. The articles did not disclose Wyeth's role in initiating and sponsoring the work, despite the fact that the company was producing hormone drugs. Wyeth has since changed its policy to require articles to disclose its participation.
The full extent of ghostwriting in journal articles continues to be unknown, but there are dozens of medical education companies nationwide that are hired by pharmaceutical companies to draft scientific papers. According to a recent survey of authors, conducted by editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), six of the top medical journals published articles written by ghostwriters paid by drug companies in 2008.
Universities have reacted in different ways; some, such as Duke University, have policies in place that prohibit ghostwriting. Though many medical journals rely largely on the honor system of author disclosure, some editors are calling for more, such as those at PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine, who wrote an editorial advocating the retraction of ghostwritten articles and the banning of their authors from subsequent publications.
In addition, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has developed stricter disclosure criteria for authors; principles that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have endorsed for clinical trials.
There is even a name for journal editors trying to sniff out such practices—ghostbusters.
-- Erin Heath
Within days of the release of findings from an independent committee chaired by Norm Augustine examining the future of U.S. human space flight, House and Senate leaders pressed the review Augustine Committee for answers on how to reconcile differences between the National Aeronautic and Space Agency's (NASA) objectives and funding levels.
Following a May 2009 announcement by the Office of Science and Technology Policy to launch "an independent review of planned U.S. human space flight activities" to ensure a "vigorous, sustainable, [and] bold" space program, NASA's Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee analyzed the future of the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station (ISS), the Constellation Program, and destinations for human and robotic exploration, with a focus on cost, safety, and timelines.
The Augustine Committee released a Summary Report on September 8 and plans to release the final report within a month. The summary reported that NASA's budget is not compatible with its mission and that human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not possible at current funding levels.
The House Committee on Science and Technology and the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held hearings on the report with Committee Chair Norm Augustine and other witnesses from NASA and the aerospace community.
The Committee reported several options for future human space flight plans, with two scenarios at current funding levels and several options developed with an additional $3 billion annually. When the Senate Subcommittee pressed him, Augustine acknowledged the need for an additional $10 billion per year to meet all of NASA's human and robotic space exploration goals.
The Committee's analysis focused on closing the gap between the end of the Space Shuttle in FY 2010 and the ready date for the Constellation crafts, scheduled for 2015, but estimated by an independent review to be 2017. One proposal includes recertification and extension of the Space Shuttle. Vice Admiral Joseph W. Dyer USN (Ret.) testified on behalf of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel in opposition to an extension, citing safety as a primary concern.
Another proposal in the report offered a new "flexible path," emphasizing gradual progress toward Mars with a focus on human space habitation, robotic surface probes, and flexibility in destinations. The Committee also proposed extending the International Space Station from its current 2016 end date until at least 2020, with two main goals: to obtain a return on the substantial investment to build the station by allowing time for research and to maintain America's commitment to international space exploration efforts.
The need for program safety and adequate R&D funding for both science and space exploration was emphasized by the House and Senate committees. Both chambers also expressed an expectation of presidential leadership to set clear objectives for the future of American human space flight.
-- Jamie Wheeler
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced legislation after the August recess to improve security and safety of research on select agents conducted in high-containment laboratories (biosafety labs [BSL] 3 and 4).
The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 (S. 1649) responds to recommendations issued by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism report, A World at Risk. Both the House and Senate held hearings at the end of last year that focused on the report and the growing threat of a biological attack.
The WMD Commission recommended in its report that the regulation of registered and unregistered high containment-laboratories (BSL3 and BSL4) be consolidated under one agency, preferably the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The legislation, however, does not follow that recommendation precisely and works to create a tiered system for listing select agents based on the level of risks to national security and public health. The Lieberman/Collins bill would require HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a new "Tier 1" designation for select agents and pathogens that pose the greatest threat for a biological attack. This new level would be based on intelligence and risk assessment analysis conducted by DHS and the intelligence community.
The bill also requires that DHS establish new biosecurity standards for laboratories that conduct research on these "Tier 1" pathogens and would utilize a negotiated rule-making process to allow consultation with the scientific research community before finalizing the standards. The standards are to address personnel reliability and background checks, education programs and staff training, and the conduct of risk assessments. Furthermore, DHS, in partnership with HHS and the USDA, would inspect the respective Tier 1 laboratories to ensure that they are in compliance with the new standards.
While research on select agents is already conducted in high-containment laboratories, a central concern of the WMD Commission centered on unregistered research facilities in the private sector. These labs have the necessary tools to handle anthrax, for example, or to synthetically engineer a more dangerous version of an agent, but whether they have implemented appropriate security measures may be unknown.
To the commission, this represents a serious lack of oversight that needs to be addressed and was an issue highlighted at a recent hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Gregory Kutz of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified that a GAO assessment "found significant differences in perimeter security" at five of the nation's BLS 4 labs. However, he emphasized that two of the five BSL 4 labs that lacked sufficient basic security controls (e.g., cameras) in a similar assessment done in 2008 have made progress in addressing the security gaps.
To address the issue of private-sector laboratories, the Lieberman/Collins bill would require HHS to create and maintain a database of laboratories and facilities that conduct research that could pose a potential health and safety threat to the public or to animals and agriculture, but do not necessarily pose an imminent security threat. The criteria for defining which laboratories are required to register would be established by HHS in cooperation with DHS and USDA.
Finally, the legislation also would authorize DHS to award grants for improving laboratory security at "Tier 1" facilities and outlines a detailed response and countermeasure strategy in the event of a biological attack.
-- Joanne Carney
In September, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee heard testimony on H.R.3650, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009, and reported it favorably to the full committee.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) affect the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and marine coastlines. These toxic algae, a variety of which exist in fresh and salt water, present risks to human health by impacting drinking water, marine food sources, and recreation. Witnesses cited excess nutrients in water bodies as the main cause of algal blooms, most commonly nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture and urban run-off.
The bill, sponsored by Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Brian Baird (D-WA), is designed to focus research funding for HAB mitigation and prevention. In the hearing, witnesses from the Enivironmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration, and academia cited research progress and hurdles, including jurisdiction issues between HAB research in freshwater versus coastal regions.
Collaboration among agencies was identified as a key to streamline funding and to continue to improve bloom forecasting, which helps prevent exposure to toxic algae. In the bill, regional plans emphasize collaboration across agencies to prioritize regional research and consult multiple perspectives, with clear report dates for accountability.
The bill would authorize a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Program to "develop and promote a national strategy [for research, development, and demonstration needs] to understand, detect, predict, control, mitigate, and respond to marine and freshwater harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events" and establish Regional Research and Action Plans. From 2010 to 2014, it authorizes $35 million and $6 million per year for NOAA and EPA, respectively, to develop these programs; of the NOAA funding, $5 million annually is dedicated to the Regional Research and Action Plans.
The bill has also been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.
-- Jamie Wheeler
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
The EPA and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Interior released seven draft reports outlining efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Developed in response to a May 12 Executive Order, these reports will be integrated into a coordinated strategy that will be released for public comment by November 12 and finalized by May 12, 2010. In related news, the House passed H.R. 1771, the Chesapeake Bay Science, Education, and Ecosystem Enhancement Act of 2009, on September 30.
The House Science and Technology Committee's Research and Education Subcommittee introduced and unanimously approved legislation that would require greater coordination among agencies to address cybersecurity threats. The bill would require the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to prepare an assessment of the nation’s cybersecurity risks, prepare a strategic plan to guide federal research and development (R&D) programs to address the risks, provide grants to support cybersecurity R&D, and create scholarships to promote education through the postdoctoral level in cybersecurity. There is no companion bill in the Senate at this time.
House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) have written a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins questioning recent grants approved through the peer review process, including studies on drug use, HIV, and cancer survivorship.
The House passed the Coral Reef Conservation Act Reauthorization and Enhancement Amendments of 2009 (H.R. 860), which promotes international cooperation to protect coral reefs and codifies the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The bill would extend existing grants programs supporting coral reef monitoring and assessment, research, pollution reduction, education, and technical support.
On September 22, EPA announced a final rule that requires companies to track and report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data. Fossil fuel and industrial GHG suppliers, motor vehicle and engine manufacturers, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of CO2 equivalent per year will be required to report GHG emissions data. These sources cover approximately 85% of U.S. emissions.
The National Institutes of Health has assembled its much-anticipated panel for evaluating the eligibility of human embryonic stem cell lines for federally-funded research. NIH is now accepting information about stem cell lines via stemcells.nih.gov.
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar signed a secretarial order that establishes a framework to coordinate climate change science and resource management strategies across the department. The framework includes a new Climate Change Response Council, eight regional Climate Change Response Centers, and a network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
The Interagency Ocean Task Force has released its Interim Report for a 30-day public review and comment period. This report provides proposals for a comprehensive, integrated national ocean policy, including the creation of a National Ocean Council. The final report is due in December.
On August 20, the National Science Foundation announced new rules mandating that NSF-funded research trainees receive training in research ethics. Institutions will need to have their training and oversight plans for students and postdocs in place by the beginning of next year. The move was required as part of the America COMPETES Act.
On September 30, EPA announced draft rules that would require large industrial facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of GHGs a year to obtain construction and operating permits. These permits must demonstrate the use of best available control technologies and energy efficiency measures to minimize GHG emissions when facilities are constructed or significantly modified. EPA will accept comment on these proposals for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Nuclear Nonproliferation: National Nuclear Security Administration Has Improved the Security of Reactors in its Global Research Reactor Program, but Action Is Needed to Address Remaining Concerns (GAO-09-949)
Responsible Research with Biological Select Agents and Toxins (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14531-2)
Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Zoonotic Diseases (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14491-9)
A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Coming Biology Revolution (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14488-9)
Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Interim Report (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14361-5)
The Geography of Innovation
The Center for American Progress
Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security
Center for Naval Analysis
Climate Change Science Compendium 2009
United Nations Environment Programme
Report to the President on U.S. Preparations for 2009-H1N1 Influenza
President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
Science, Innovation and the FY 2010 R&D Budget
AAAS recently held a congressional briefing which detailed Federal dollars spent on R&D. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2010 appropriations, and historical trends were analyzed.
Mark Your Calendar:
Second Annual AAAS-Hitachi Lecture on Science & Societ
October 14, 2009
AAAS Headquarters, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
At the lecture Dr. Ernest J. Moniz will discuss “Energy Technology for a Low Carbon Future.”
PERSONALIZED MEDICINE: In an Era of Health Care Reform
October 26-27, 2009
AAAS Headquarters, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
AAAS is convening a two day colloquium that will address personalized medicine through a health care reform lens. This event is the second in a series of three colloquia. Keynote speaker Francis Collins, NIH Director, will explain how his agency is addressing the scientific and policy challenges of personalized medicine.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers discovered seven new species of deep-sea worms off the coast of the Philippines and the west coast of both the United States and Mexico. Five of the worm species discovered release bright green balloon-like "bombs." Scientists believe the "bombs" are released in an attempt to distract and evade predators. This new discovery shows, once again, there is much to learn about the deep sea.
Osborn, Karen et al. "Deep-Sea, Swimming Worms with Luminescent 'Bombs'" Science 21 August 2009:Vol. 325. no. 5943, pp. 964