Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: June 2006
Stem Cell Floor Vote Expected Soon; AAAS Testifies on Related Bill
The long-awaited Senate vote on stem cell research will take place when Congress returns from its Independence Day recess, though an exact date has not yet been determined. A package of 3 bills – that each must pass by 60 votes - will be brought up under a unanimous consent agreement. The agreement allows for 12 hours for debate and does not permit amendments.
The package will contain House-passed H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would lift the current ban on federal research on embryonic stem cells derived after August 2001; S. 2754, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, introduced by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) to encourage stem cell research using techniques that do not destroy embryos; and S. 3504 introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) to prohibit “fetus farming,” creating and aborting fetuses solely for research purposes.
Though it appears the Senate has enough votes to pass the three bills, there are likely not enough votes to overturn the expected presidential veto.
S. 2754 was the subject of the 18th hearing on stem cell research by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Other Agencies on June 27. Though Senator Santorum testified that the bill aims to encourage new stem cell research using techniques that do not destroy embryos, it became clear through the hearing that NIH already has the authority to fund such research.
The Senators attending the hearing were supportive of S. 2754 itself, but expressed concerns that it may divert attention away from embryonic stem cell research. Ranking Member Tom Harkin (D-IA) was blunt in his questioning and stated that he worried that “some may use this as a decoy” on the embryonic stem cell debate.
Discussions between Senators Harkin and Specter, as well as witnesses James Battey, Jr., NIH Stem Cell Task Force Chair, and AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, revealed that while these alternative methods have potential and should continue to be investigated, none have produced stem cell lines. Dr. Leshner stated in testimony that at this time, embryonic stem cell research has the greatest potential. When asked about the potential of embryonic stem cell research, Dr. Battey stated that they had unique characteristics that made them “particularly interesting to scientists.”
-- Kasey White
During Capitol Hill Oceans Week, the House Science Committee approved H.R. 5450, an organic act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by voice vote on June 14. The bill would clarify and codify the functions and responsibilities of NOAA, which was established by Executive Order in 1970.
Establishing an organic act for NOAA has been recommended by many in the ocean community. The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a follow-up to the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, included it as one of their ten priority items for congressional action in a report, From Sea to Shining Sea: Priorities for Ocean Policy Reform, released in the days before the bill's passage.
Introduced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) who called it “like a constitution” for NOAA, H.R. 5450 would make several structural changes to NOAA, including creating a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology; reorganizing the agency around four areas - the National Weather Service, Research and Education, Operations and Services, and Resources Management; and creating a Chief Operating Officer to manage the agency's day-to-day operations. The bill also calls for a National Academy of Sciences review of the adequacy of NOAA’s environmental data and information systems, and calls for a two strategic plans and a reorganization plan. Full details of the bill can be found on the Science Committee website.
The bill is similar to H.R. 50 that passed the committee last year, but slightly reworked to avoid jurisdictional issues with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Illustrating the scattering of control over ocean issues in Congress, the House Resources Committee has additional jurisdiction over the bill, particularly on issues relating to fisheries and coastal zone management.
The committee defeated two amendments along party lines: one by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) proposing various measures related to scientific integrity within NOAA and the other by Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) proposing that agency reports requested by Congress be sent directly by the agency to Congress without review by the White House. Language in the bill (“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the ability of an Administration employee to discuss scientific research performed by that employee”) was used to argue against both amendments.
Though Chairman Boehlert did not support the Miller amendment due to concerns that it would sidetrack the bill by sending it to the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, he announced at the markup that he was concerned about scientific integrity at the agency and had recently sent a second letter to NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher. The letter called on Admiral Lautenbacher to take action amid recent reports that NOAA officials have been discouraging agency scientists from sharing their findings on climate change. Sen. Lieberman (D-CT) has sent a similar letter.
The Senate Commerce Committee does not appear to be actively engaged in passing a companion bill this year, but will likely hold a hearing on NOAA later this summer in order to set the stage for legislation next year.
-- Kasey White
On May 24, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property passed H.R.5439. This bill, termed “Orphan Works,” addresses issues related to works whose authors cannot be located.
The legislation creates limits on compensation for owners whose work is used without permission. The bill states that the remedies paid by the infringer will be limited to what they would have paid if they had found the owner before using the works. This amount will be determined through good faith negotiations between the infringer and the owner. If the infringer fails to negotiate in good faith, a court may award full costs, including a reasonable attorney's fee
The most contentious stipulation for this limitation on remedies is that the user must be unable to find the owner by performing a “reasonably diligent search” before using the orphaned work, though the term “reasonably diligent” is roughly defined. It does state that, in general, a reasonably diligent search includes the use of reasonably-available expert assistance and reasonably-available technology. In addition, the Register of Copyrights shall make available statements of best practices and other relevant documents that are designed to assist users in conducting and documenting a search.
Objections to this bill are most forcefully raised by groups representing photographers and illustrators. They argue that the majority of photographs and illustrations would be categorized as “orphan,” since there is currently no effective way to search for the originator of a photograph. This bill would not only remove the thin layer of protection currently offered to such works, but the cap on remedies would also remove the deterrent for violators. In the vast majority of cases the violator would never be found. Furthermore, creators are not protected if they would not have granted permissions for usage of their work or if they would have wanted more compensation than a court decided was reasonable.
The author of the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), noted that significant negotiation and studies went into its construction, and that “substantive changes have already been made to limit the legislation, and it is time to move forward with such a good bill.”
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property also held a hearing on orphan works on April 6, with Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stating that this was an important issue that needs to be addressed. Both he and the only other attending Senator, Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), seemed optimistic that an arrangement could be reached and legislation on the orphan works issue would be passed, but legislation has not yet advanced.
-- Dannon Allbee
During a markup that emphasized the committee’s bipartisan commitment to innovation and education, the House Science Committee passed its competitiveness package on June 7. The bills were originally introduced with only Republican sponsorship; however, enough changes were made to bring Democrats onboard to pass H.R. 5358, Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act, and H.R. 5356, Early Career Research Act, by voice vote. Committee staff expect the bills to be scheduled for consideration by the full House soon after the July 4 recess.
Though Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) characterized the bills as complementing President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), White House science advisor John Marburger sent a letter to Chairman Boehlert stating that the bills contain ‘very high authorizations’ and would diminish the impact of the ACI.
The bills do not create new programs, instead strengthening existing programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE). Both bills included manager’s amendments that made multiple changes to the bills from their introduction (See May 2006 newsletter). As amended, the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act, introduced by Rep. Schwarz (R-MI), would expand existing NSF math, science, and engineering education programs, including:
- Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to math and science majors in return for a commitment to teaching. The final bill includes more specifics on the programs grant recipients must provide for students to prepare them for teaching, including providing field teaching experience. It also allows those programs to serve students during all four years of college (although scholarships would still be available only to juniors and seniors) and raises the authorization levels for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The Committee also agreed to an amendment by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) that would require NSF to gather information on whether students who receive Noyce scholarships continue teaching after their service requirements are completed.
- Math and Science Partnership Program, which would be renamed to the School and University Partnerships for Math and Science. Unlike the introduced bill, the amended bill does not narrow its focus to teacher training. Instead, the language increases authorization levels and gives preference to grant applications that include teacher training but specifies additional allowable partnership activities, including developing master’s degree programs for science and math teachers.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), which provides grants to colleges and universities to improve undergraduate science, math and engineering programs. The amended bill makes the creation of centers on undergraduate education an activity under the existing STEP program.
The legislation also requires NSF to assess its programs in ways that enable their comparison to education programs run by other federal agencies.
The Early Career Research Act, introduced by Rep. McCaul (R-TX), was amended to include provisions from H.R. 5357, the Research for Competitiveness Act, and passed unanimously. H.R. 5356 authorizes programs at NSF and DOE's Office of Science to provide grants to researchers just starting their careers to conduct high-risk, high-return research at the cutting edge of new scientific fields. Some of the grants would go to researchers to perform innovative work for which the government would match funds provided by businesses. The bill also expands an NSF program that helps universities acquire high-tech equipment that is shared by researchers and students from various fields.
The amended bill includes several new provisions concerning the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A new section expresses the Sense of the Congress that NASA should participate in competitiveness initiatives within the spending levels authorized in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and allows NASA to establish a virtual Academy to train its employees.
Additional information on each of the bills, including the bill text and summaries, is available on the Science Committee website.
-- Kasey White
It is not every day that a markup is described as a “love-in,” but that is how House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) characterized the collegial atmosphere and relatively bipartisan support for H.R. 5656. “The Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Commercial Application Act of 2006” authorizes $4.7 billion over six years for the development and promotion of new technologies related to nuclear power, clean coal, solar and wind energy, biofuels, advanced vehicles, and energy efficiency.
The bill brings together multiple bills, including one that was introduced by Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL) to authorize and specify the implementation of the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI). The AEI provides for a substantial increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy (DOE).
Chairman Biggert noted the difficulties involved with altering U.S. energy-use practices and regulations. “To make significant progress down this path requires a steadfast commitment from Congress and the federal government to support the development of advanced energy technologies and alternative fuels that will help end our addiction to oil and gasoline. The bill we are considering today includes provisions that do just that, by building on the excellent research and development provisions this committee included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.”
The legislation funds research in photovoltaic technologies, wind energy, hydrogen storage, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Grant money was made available for the design and construction of energy-efficient buildings, as well as for further educational opportunities for engineers and architects related to high-performance buildings. Additionally, the bill gave what Boehlert called an “amber light” to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, financing the program but requiring further analysis before large-scale demonstration projects proceed. Further support was given to FutureGen, an initiative to develop an emissions-free coal plant with the capacity for carbon capture and sequestration. Additional information on “The Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Commercial Application Act of 2006” is available on the Science Committee website.
Broad support for the bill, however, did not preclude substantive debate, which focused largely on an amendment by Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) to create a new agency within the DOE to accelerate research on targeted energy technologies. The National Academy of Sciences report Rising Above the Gathering Storm recommended that the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), patterned after the successful Department of Defense DARPA program, would be a valuable locus for funding research across universities, startups, and established businesses. Biggert was concerned whether this “new bureaucracy” would really help, while Boehlert worried that “a lot of unanswered questions” remained about the details of ARPA-E and expressed concerns about its funding. Rep. Gordon, who had introduced legislation (H.R. 4435) last December to create ARPA-E, maintained that the language was sufficiently clear, and that the provision already represented a finished product from the National Academy. The committee effectively sent this section of the bill back to the National Academy for further study and refinement. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee supported the concept of ARPA-E when it passed S. 2197 in April.
Energy research was also supported in H.R. 4761, the Deep Ocean Energy Resource Act passed by the House on June 29. The bill authorizes two new DOE research and education programs at a combined total of $37.5 million a year for each of the next 10 years. The new energy research program would provide funding for grants to colleges and universities for "research on advanced energy technologies." Specifically, the grants could be used for research on energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy and hydrogen. The new energy education program would provide graduate traineeships at universities and colleges for research work in those same areas.
-- Eric Martin
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
Clean Air Act Issues in the 109th Congress (IB10137)
This report examines the major issues surrounding clean air policy in Congress, the courts and the executive branch. The report provides information on action related to EPA's proposal to strengthen air quality standards for fine particles, Clear Skies/Multi-Pollutant legislation, MTBE, mercury guidelines and the New Source Review.
The Columbia River Basin’s Fish Passage Center (RS22414)
The Fish Passage Center (FPC) provides technical assistance and information to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes on the passage of juvenile and adult salmon and steelhead through the Columbia River. Its fish and wildlife program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). This report examines the effect of language in H.Rept.109-275, the conference report on FY2006 Energy and Water appropriations (P.L. 109-103) that prohibits further BPA obligations supporting the FPC, and directs BPA and the Council to transfer FPC functions to other existing entities within 120 days of enactment.
Climate Change: EPA and DOE Should Do More to Encourage Progress Under Two Voluntary Programs (GAO-06-97)
This report, requested by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA), examined two voluntary programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: EPA’s Climate Leaders and DOE’s Climate VISION. GAO found that these programs have not delivered promised results, as they have failed to ensure that participating firms set reduction targets or meet their stated goals.
Clinical Lab Quality: CMS and Survey Organization Oversight Should Be Strengthened (GAO-06-416)
This GAO report identified difficulties for oversight groups to gather and use data on quality requirements for laboratories that treat or diagnose disease. The report stated that “too little is known about lab testing,” and consequently that “real and potential lab quality problems are masked by survey, complaint, and enforcement weaknesses.” Such weaknesses can result in harm to lab technicians, harmful hiring practices, and low-quality lab tests, including both false-positive and false-negative test results. The GAO recommended standardizing the survey findings to allow meaningful comparisons across survey organizations, as well as ensuring that laboratory educational programs do not preclude regulation when necessary.
These reports are currently only available on the NAS website, but hard copies will be available shortly.
Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years (ISBN: 0309102251)
This National Research Council report, prepared in response to a request from House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) in the aftermath of an investigation by House Energy and Commerce Chair Joe Barton (R-TX), used proxy evidence to reconstruct surface temperatures for the past 2000 years. The study was similar to a one by Mann, Bradley and Hughes published in 1999 that yielded a graph known for its shape as “the Hockey Stick.” The committee found high confidence in findings that the past few decades have been the warmest in the past 400 years. Though less confident, they found it likely (~66% confidence) this period is the warmest in the past 1000 years.
Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions ( ISBN: 0309101786)
This report assesses the current state of social science hazards and disaster research and provides recommendation for future study. Though social science knowledge of the response of U.S. households to disaster is well-developed, more research is needed to assess how the characteristics of different hazards affect response and vulnerability. In addition, the committee recommended action to ensure the management and accessibility of data. The committee recommended NSF and Department of Homeland Security jointly support research and capacity building on these topics.
AAAS Testifies on Stem Cell Research
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner testified before the Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee on stem cell research, stating that though AAAS supports investigating new techniques that appear to hold potential as additional routes for deriving stem cells, at the moment the most promising method appears to be the derivation of embryonic stem cells.
AAAS Commends Commerce Department Official for “Deemed Export” Changes.
AAAS has sent a letter to David H. McCormick, Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security, commending him for his work with the scientific, national security, and business communities that led to the Commerce Department’s withdrawing its proposed “deemed export” rules and offering AAAS’s assistance to the Deemed Export Advisory Committee.
The AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website has updated coverage of the FY07 appropriations process.
Early Style Three shells with holes bored into their centers, excavated from sites in Israel and Algeria, may be the oldest known evidence of personal decoration, according to new research published in Science. New findings suggest that the shells are 100,000 year-old beads, which lends support to the idea that modern human behavior emerged gradually instead of bursting forth later in Europe.
23 June 2006, Science