Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
Earlier this year, hopes were high for the enactment of domestic and international measures to address climate change. But weeks out from the start of international negotiations in Copenhagen, nations have announced that they only intend to push consideration of a final treaty to 2010. Congressional leaders, too, have announced that Senate floor consideration of a bill will have to wait until next spring.
The Senate has begun to advance climate legislation, though much work remains. After a week of hearings with more than 50 witnesses that covered R&D needs, green jobs, nuclear and renewable energy, national security, and economics followed by three days of a scheduled markup session, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Democrats reported out The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) on November 5. The bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade program (see October STC newsletter). The minority had boycotted the mark-up meetings in an attempt to delay the vote until after another EPA impact analysis. The bill was approved 10-1, with Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) casting the lone Nay vote. No amendments were considered in order to comply with committee rules that require the presence of at least two members of the minority party.
Five other committees have jurisdiction over the bill and several have begun to hold hearings. On November 10, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing examining the impact of climate change legislation on American jobs. Committee Chair Baucus– who voted against S. 1733 in the EPW markup- said he was “committed to passing meaningful, balanced climate change legislation,” but that Congress must “work to minimize any job losses.” As a result, he said that any climate bill would have to include a border tax adjustment to protect U.S. manufacturing from unfair competition abroad.
Meanwhile, lead sponsor of S. 1733 Senator John Kerry (D-MA) announced bipartisan negotiations led by himself, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to develop a compromise bill. The senators were hoping to release an outline before the Copenhagen negotiations but that timeline also appears to be pushed back. The bill could include text from the Clean Energy Act of 2009, introduced by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to increase nuclear power production, carbon capture and storage, solar power, nuclear waste recycling, green buildings, and energy from fusion.
The lack of domestic progress has hampered the Obama Administration’s ability to agree to targets or timetables at the upcoming negotiations taking place in Copenhagen December 7-18 to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol though the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change. In mid-November, the administration endorsed a proposal to reach a political accord on global warming in Copenhagen, while deferring the finalization of a treaty to 2010.
Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S. Department of State, explained the decision at a November 4 House Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. Stern testified on the U.S. position that developing countries need to reduce emissions below business as usual, and some vulnerable countries should receive financial and technological assistance to meet these goals. He said expectations for Copenhagen include a restatement of a need to act and agreement on language for mitigation assistance, forest protection, and adaptation.
Limits on emissions and foreign aid to achieve these cuts in developing countries, particularly those with sizable emissions such as China and India, have been a key point of contention in the negotiations. The United States appears to be making progress on dealings with China in bilateral meetings. The two countries recently announced partnerships on clean energy as well as statements indicating progress toward both nations offering carbon emissions reduction goals. Stern was optimistic in the hearing, as he noted that countries such as China will likely do more to reduce emissions than they are willing to agree to in an international treaty.
- Kasey White and Phillip Chalker
Congress has extended their deadline for finishing appropriations for the second time to December 18, allowing another month to complete the seven remaining appropriations bills.
President Obama signed the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies (H.R.2997) appropriation bill into law on October 16. The bill provides increases for R&D spending in the Department of Agriculture, including $1.3 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a 6.3% increase over FY 2009, and $808 million for the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA; formerly CSREES), a 12.2% increase over FY 2009. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI; formerly NRI), part of NIFA, would receive a large increase of $61 million (30.3%) over FY 2009.
The President signed both the Homeland Security (H.R. 2892) and Energy and Water Development (H.R. 3183) appropriations bills into law on October 28. Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security receives a total budget of $1.0 billion, $74 million more than in FY 2009, but the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) sees its budget decrease to $383 million, $131 million less than FY 2009. The Energy and Water 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.
On October 29 the House and Senate agreed to the Department of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (H.R. 2996) conference report, and the next day President Obama signed it into law. Attached to the bill was a new continuing resolution (CR) extending funding at FY 2009 levels through December 18 for agencies still without FY 2010 appropriations. The bill provides $1.1 billion in total funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, $68 million (6.5%) more than FY 2009 and $14 million (1.3%) more than the President’s request. The Science and Technology program in the Environmental Protection Agency receives $846 million in total funding (including Superfund transfers), $56 million (7.1%) more than FY 2009 and $4 million (0.5%) more than the President’s request.
Three appropriation bills – Defense; Commerce, Science and Justice and Related Agencies; and Transportation, all with significant R&D components – have been passed by both the House and Senate and are waiting to be discussed in conference committee.
On November 5 the full Senate passed its version of the Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies (H.R. 2847) appropriations bill. R&D funding in the Senate version includes $11.2 billion at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), ($611 million more than the House); $5.2 billion at the National Science Foundation (NSF), ($14 million less than the House); $700 million at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ($22 million more than the House); and $672 million at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), ($96 million more than the House). Sen. Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment (SA 2631) to the bill, which would have prohibited funding of the Political Science program at the National Science Foundation, failed but garnered 36 votes.
Senate passage came despite a statement from President Obama expressing concern over the funding levels for the NSF and NIST, which the White House says, are “more than $200 million” below the President’s request.
The full Senate passed its version of the Defense (H.R.3326) appropriations bill on October 6. The Senate version would provide less than the House for RDT&E (research, development, test, and evaluation) programs – $78.5 billion instead of $80.2 billion. The biggest discrepancy between the two bills in terms of R&D spending is in the Navy RDT&E appropriation, with the House appropriating $20.2 billion, $1.0 billion more than the Senate. The Navy programs of greatest contention are the VH-71A Executive Helicopter (House: $485 million; Senate: $30 million) and the Joint Strike Fighter (House: $2.0 billion; Senate: $1.7 billion) where the development of an alternative engine for the aircraft has been the subject of much debate.
In the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill for FY 2010 (H.R.3288), the Department of Transportation would receive a 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.
For an update on the current status of appropriations, see the AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
-- Patrick Clemins
The House and Senate have achieved some movement on their health care reform bills. The House passed its bill (H.R. 3962) on November 7 and the Senate just voted to move forward with debate on its bill. In addition to the well-known provisions on insurance coverage, the massive bills contain provisions on topics including comparative effectiveness research, generic biologic drugs, and financial conflicts of interest between doctors and drug makers.
The House bill would establish a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct, support and synthesize research that compares medical interventions. The center would be funded through a trust fund run through the Treasury Department. The Senate bill would instead create a nonprofit corporation outside of the U.S. government called the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to handle comparative effectiveness research. It would also be funded by a Treasury trust fund.
Both bills address generic biologic drugs, creating a regulatory pathway that allows a 12-year period of exclusivity. (For background on generic biologics, see STC August 2009.) The decision to use a 12-year time frame is a victory for the biotech industry and runs contrary to the preferences of the Administration and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), who sought a seven- and five-year period, respectively.
Both bills also include provisions to require drug and device makers to disclose gifts to physicians. These provisions originate from a bill introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. Grassley has shown a strong interest in policing conflicts of interest among researchers and medical professionals.
-- Erin Heath
On November 4, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 (S. 1649) by a vote of 8-1. The committee attempted to mark-up the bill the previous week but failed to vote the bill out of committee due to a lack of a quorum. The bill seeks to improve security and safety of research on select agents conducted in high-containment laboratories (biosafety labs 3 and 4). (See October STC for more details).
The WMD bill, introduced by Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), would require the Department of Health and Human Services (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 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the intelligence community. It also would require that new personnel reliability measures be implemented at institutions that conduct research on high-risk pathogens.
The bill responds to recommendations issued by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism report, A World at Risk. Hearings have been held in both the House and Senate over the past year, but only the Senate has introduced and passed a measure to address some of the reports recommendations.
At the final mark-up session Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was the lone dissenting vote. He had argued at both mark-ups that it was premature for the committee to pursue a legislative response for securing laboratory safety until after a pending executive branch interagency report on the same subject was issued (see Executive Order 13486).
-- Joanne Carney
The House Science and Technology Committee held the first congressional hearing on geoengineering, the deliberate large-scale modification of the earth’s climate systems to counteract climate change, on November 5. Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) explained that his “decision to hold this hearing should not in any way be misconstrued as an endorsement of any geoengineering activity.” Instead, he said, “Geoengineering carries with it a tremendous range of uncertainties, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for catastrophic environmental side effects. But we are faced with the stark reality that the climate is changing, and the onset of impacts may outpace the world’s political and economic ability to avoid them.”
Gordon announced that this hearing will be the first part of a joint effort to examine issues surrounding geoengineering between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.K. House of Commons. The two bodies will hold parallel hearings and the Chairman of the Commons Committee will testify before the Science and Technology Committee in a hearing next spring on domestic and international governance issues surrounding geoengineering.
Ken Caldeira, senior scientist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington, outlined two main categories of geoengineering activities. Solar radiation management would add tiny particles to the stratosphere to reflect sun’s rays back to space. This technique is based on cooling that occurs from volcanic eruptions. Caldeira noted this technique is not perfect and introduces many new risks but “could address most climate changes in most places most of the time.” The second type of geoengineering activity is removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, either by storing it in the ground through forests or using techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With some exceptions, Caldeira noted, carbon removal techniques unlikely to carry significant risk and instead cost is likely to be primary constraint. Caldeira recommended R&D programs in both of these activities, a recommendation echoed by Lee Lane of the American Enterprise Institute.
University of Southampton Professor John Shepherd testified on a report he chaired, Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty. Released in September by the United Kingdom Royal Society, the report concluded that geoengineering techniques to reverse the impacts of global climate change are likely to be technically feasible but major uncertainties on effectiveness, costs and environmental impacts exist and should be studied. The report calls for mitigation and adaptation, but notes that “geoengineering methods could … potentially be useful to augment continuing efforts to mitigate climate change.”
Shepherd’s testimony emphasized that geoengineering is not a magic bullet and cutting greenhouse gas emissions must be the highest priority in addressing climate change. Geoengineering may prove useful but is not ready for immediate deployment
Alan Robock, professor at Rutgers University, agreed that global warming is a problem and reducing emissions should be the primary response. Robock testified, “Using geoengineering should only be in the event of a planetary emergency and only for a limited time- not a solution to global warming.” He posed questions of how much warming to allow, who should make those decisions, and what happens once geoengineering ends as key questions that need to be considered.
-- Kasey White
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a body of 48 nations, recently met in Brazil and decided to decrease the annual Atlantic bluefin tuna catch quota from 19,950 tons to 13,500 tons, a level it claimed was consistent with recommendations from its scientific advisory committee. The catch limit change attempts to restore bluefin stocks, which have dwindled to an estimated 18 percent of pre-industrial levels. Reasons for the depleted Atlantic bluefin stock include illegal overfishing, bycatch (accidental catches), pollution, habitat destruction, and, potentially, global warming.
Environmental groups wanted a zero catch limit, while the United States wanted to see a quota of about 8,000 tons, a target supported by its scientific recommendations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement: “The ICCAT agreement on eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna is a marked improvement over the current rules, but it is insufficient to guarantee the long-term viability of either the fish or the fishery.” If stocks continue to decline NOAA supports “the commitment to set future catch levels in line with scientific advice, shorten the fishing season, reduce capacity, and close the fishery.”
The United States and various other countries have announced their support for including the Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but some Mediterranean countries and Japan oppose the move. In addition, because CITES has an opt-out clause, simply listing a species under it does not guarantee its survival.
Major players in the bluefin market include the EU, Japan, Canada, U.S., North Africa, and Mexico. With the exception of Canada, most countries do not reach quota levels due to the scarcity of the fish. In Japan, which consumes up to a quarter of bluefin, one tuna can fetch a price of over $100,000.
In order to continue to feed the world’s bluefin appetite, some companies have begun to explore aquaculture. Currently, the only form of aquaculture suitable for bluefin is “ranching,” which traps young tuna and keeps them until they are grown and ready for market. Although some have said this has reduced overfishing, others claim this practice hurts the bluefin population by preventing them from spawning.
At the meeting, ICCAT also adopted measures to protect threatened shark species and swordfish.
-- Phillip Chalker
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
The Science and Technology Committee unanimously approved H.R. 4061, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2009, on November 18. The bill continues support of basic research at the National Science Foundation (NSF); expands NSF scholarships to increase the size and skills of the cybersecurity workforce; and increases research and development (R&D), standards development and coordination, and public outreach at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) related to cybersecurity.
The House approved H.R. 3585, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act, on October 22. Sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the bill would establish a Solar Technology Roadmap Committee to advise the Secretary of Energy and set research, development, and demonstration objectives. The bill would authorize $350 million for FY 2011, ramping up to $550 million in 2015.
The Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (aka the Augustine Committee) released its final report, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation. The report warned that the beleaguered agency lacks a sufficient budget to meet all its human and robotic exploratory goals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced a new website, ResearchMatch.org, that seeks to connect individuals interested in participating in clinical trials with researchers conducting the studies. The site is intended to be user friendly and the service will cover an array of diseases.
A new Executive Order signed by President Obama on October 5 provides government agencies 90 days to develop plans for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from their vehicles and facilities. In addition to instructing agencies to set 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the order sets targets for water efficiency, energy efficiency, and recycling.
The White House has announced a series of partnerships involving leading companies, foundations, teachers, and scientists and engineers to motivate students to excel in science and math. The campaign, called “Educate to Innovate,” has received an initial commitment of more than $260 million from private sector partners.
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Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons (RL32572)
- NASA: Briefing on National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Programs and Associated Activities. (GAO‑10‑87R)
Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14557-2)
Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use (ISBN-13:978-0-309-14636-4)
Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14670-8)
Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14686-9)
World Energy Outlook 2009
International Energy Agency
Staying Competitive Patching America's Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences
Center for American Progress
Health Problems Heat Up: Climate Change and the Public's Health
Trust for America's Health
AAAS Climate Briefing Presentations Available
Presentations are available from the November 16 congressional lunch briefing addressing the human health impacts associated with climate change. Hosted by AAAS and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, speakers included University of Maryland professor and former National Science Foundation head Rita Colwell, Johns Hopkins professor Lynn Goldman, and National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Mary Hayden. Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts moderated the panel.
Details and slides from presentations are available from a November 9 briefing hosted by AAAS and the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) at which leading scientific and policy experts discussed climate change impacts and adaptation options for coastal regions. Panelists included Vicki Arroyo, Georgetown State and Federal Climate Resource Center; Virginia Burkett, U.S. Geological Survey; Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution of Washington; and David Kennedy, NOAA.
AAAS Comments on WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009
On November 2, AAAS sent Senators Lieberman and Collins a letter expressing concerns and recommendations in the interest of promoting safe and secure science while preventing bioterrorism.
AAAS and 17 other Scientific Societies Release Letter Supporting Climate Change Science
As Senators debate climate change legislation, 18 scientific societies signed onto a joint letter affirming climate change science and offering assistance to Senators as they debate legislation.
Mark Your Calendar:
Science & Society: Global Challenges
Corralling Swine (flu): Preparations for the Next Pandemic
Monday November 30; 6:00-7:30 pm, reception starting at 5:00 pm.
AAAS Auditorium at 1200 New York Avenue, Washington, D.C.
No powerpoint. No notes. Just candid conversations with leading scientists, economists, and politicians hosted by award-winning NPR reporter Richard Harris. Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, MD, Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will discuss preparations for pandemics. Please RSVP online.
Twenty-First Century Challenges for the Scientific Community
Sir David King, University of Oxford
December 1, 4:30-5:30 pm, tea and coffee starting at 4 pm
AAAS Auditorium, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Sir David King is the Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford and served as the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office of Science from 2000 to 2007. He will address challenges of climate change, resource depletion and growing global population and potential solutions through greater global awareness of the demand for equitable solutions, new forms of national and global governance, and a new approach to these challenges from the scientific community.
Developing a Framework for Engaging Iran
December 2, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
AAAS Auditorium, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
The event will feature a panel of experts including Dr. Suzanne Maloney, The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution; Richard Nephew, U.S. Department of State; Todd Schwartz, U.S. Department of State; and Glenn Schweitzer, U.S. National Academies moderated by Vaughan Turekian, Chief International Officer, AAAS. Please RSVP by November 30 to email@example.com.
Beyond Copenhagen: Water and Marine Services
December 3, 5:30-6:45 pm
AAAS Auditorium, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Moderated by James McCarthy, Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University, and AAAS Chairman of the Board, panelists Keith Brander, Senior Research Scientist, DTU Aqua – Danish Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark and Steven Murawski, Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service will explore how humans and marine organisms can adapt to accommodate changing oceans. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
As more people gain access to and use electronic devices, such as cell phones and computers, the amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, continues to grow faster than any other part of the solid-waste stream. Researchers from the University of California estimate that more 1.36 million metric tons of e-waste is found in the U.S. alone. One reason for the high levels is because most people do not know how to properly recycle e-waste. E-waste can lead to increased levels of toxins in the blood of nearby animals and humans when not properly contained.
Ogunseitanet, Oladele A. et al. "The Electronics Revolution: From E-Wonderland to E-Wasteland" Science 30 October 2009:Vol. 326. no. 5953, pp. 670