Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: January 2007
As scientists, evangelicals, and business leaders came to Washington to call for action to address climate change, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid announced their intent to have climate change bills on the floor this year. Though bills addressing climate change that have been introduced run the gamut from energy efficiency to biofuels to increasing CAFE standards, those that establish mandatory greenhouse gas emission limits are receiving the most attention.
Pelosi and Reid highlighted climate change as a key issue during the Democratic leaders’ State of the Union address on January 19. Pelosi stated, “The science of global warming and its impact is overwhelming and unequivocal … Working with the global, religious, business, and scientific communities, we intend to continue robust research on global warming and produce policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously creating good-paying jobs.” In a separate address, Speaker Pelosi called on leaders of the seven committees with jurisdiction over climate change to report legislation by July 4, which she hoped to be known as “Energy Independence Day.”
Pelosi has also announced the creation of a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which will chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). Though it will not have legislative authority, this committee will likely put pressure on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Committee Chair Dingell (D-MI) was not pleased about the news, stating, "These kind of committees are as useful and relevant as feathers on a fish." Dingell, who has previously opposed mandatory action to address climate change, had already announced climate change as a priority for the committee and his intention to invite former Vice President Al Gore and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to testify at a hearing that would feature "broadly divergent views as to what should be done on climate change." Leaders of the House Science and Technology Committee and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have also listed climate change among their priority topics. The House will need to adopt a resolution to formally establish the select committee, which is only anticipated to last through the 110th Congress.
In the Senate, where four proposals have been introduced, the Environment and Public Works Committee will have lead jurisdiction. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has restructured the committee to include two new subcommittees on global warming. Boxer will chair the Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, Children’s Health Protection and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee on which Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will be the Ranking Member. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) will chair the Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection Subcommittee, with Senator John Warner (R-VA) serving as Ranking Member. The committee will hold its first hearing of the 110th Congress on January 30 on global warming.
Though Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) recently ceded jurisdiction on climate change, he is drafting a climate change bill and his committee is held a standing-room-only hearing on the topic on January 24.
The Foreign Relations Committee is also weighing in, as Chairman Biden (D-DE) and Ranking Member Lugar (R-IN) reintroduced a "Sense of the Senate" resolution for the United States to return to international climate negotiations, stipulating that all major emitters of greenhouse gases – including developing countries such as China and India – participate as well. A similar resolution by the Senators passed the committee last year, but stalled on the floor.
Four Senate bills, with varying levels of emissions reductions and use of nuclear energy, have been introduced. They all would use a “cap and trade” system to limit greenhouse gas emissions, though the scope of their covered entities varies. Promotion of nuclear energy is likely to be a key focus of discussions, as many in the environmental community oppose it on other grounds.
Key Bills Include:
Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007 (McCain/Lieberman)
On January 12, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (I-CT), introduced S. 280, the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, with Senator Obama (D-IL) also joining as an original cosponsor. Their plan would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2004 levels in 2012 and decrease those emission limits to 1990 levels by 2020. It would eventually cut U.S. emissions to one-third the amount they were in 2000 by 2050. These limits are different from previous bills introduced by climate stalwarts McCain and Lieberman, reflecting both the growth in emission in the passing years and the growing sentiment to first slow the growth of emissions before calling for steep reductions. This version of the bill also contains additional credits for “offsets,” activities made by those outside the cap-and-trade system. It also includes incentives for nuclear energy.
The Act invests money raised by the auction of allowances in deploying advanced technologies and practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and ameliorating the negative impacts of any unavoidable global warming on low-income Americans and populations abroad.
Rep. Olver (D-MA) and Gilchrest (R-MD) are expected to introduce a House companion bill in the near future.
Greenhouse Gas Intensity (Bingaman/Specter)
Drafts of Bingaman’s bill, which has picked up the support of Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), focus on reductions in energy intensity, a ratio of greenhouse gas emissions per unit economic output, usually measured in GDP. The draft bill currently circulating would stipulate 2.6% per year reductions in emissions intensity from 2012-2021 and 3% per year intensity reductions starting 2022. Like the McCain-Lieberman bill, this bill would provide credits for offsets. Bingaman has included a "safety valve" that initially limits to $7 per ton the amount that industry would have to pay for exceeding emission limits, with that figure rising annually by 5 percent above the projected inflation rate. Proceeds from the auction of permits would be used for low-carbon energy research, development and deployment.
On January 11, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released an analysis of a similar proposal by Bingaman, finding that it would cost 0.1% of GDP through 2030. Bingaman has hailed this finding as proof that a climate change program can work without causing damage to the economy. According to EIA, Bingaman’s plan would, compared to business as usual, lower emissions by 5 percent (372 million tons) in 2015 and 11 percent (909 million tons) in 2025, and 14 percent (1259 million tons) by 2030; however, the actual level of emissions is still higher than today.
Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007 (Boxer/Sanders)
Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Boxer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), introduced S. 309, a bill that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Additional reductions are allowed if certain temperature or greenhouse gas concentration thresholds are crossed. The bill also contains energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards.
The bill, which contains the largest cuts in emissions of those introduced, has the backing of the environmental community, based on the exclusion of nuclear energy provisions and its large-scale emissions reductions, but no Republican cosponsors as of yet.
The Electric Utility Cap-and-Trade Act (Feinstein/Carper)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE) introduced S. 317, legislation focused on reducing emissions in the electricity sector. The measure would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2006 levels by 2011, and at 2001 levels in 2015, with continued reductions so that emissions are 25 percent below projected levels in 2020. The bill has been endorsed by six large utilities, none of which rely predominantly on coal. They include Calpine, PG&E, Florida Power and Light, Public Service Enterprise Group of New Jersey, Excelon, and Entergy.
The bill would use money from auctioning credits for low-carbon technology and helping low-income communities and ecosystems adapt to climate change.
-- Kasey White
House Passes Stem Cell Bill as Part of “First 100 Hours” Agenda
On January 11, the House passed H.R. 3, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would expand researcher access to embryonic stem cell lines. The bill, sponsored by Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Mike Castle (R-DE), was identical to last year's H.R. 810, the first bill President Bush vetoed. The current bill has continued to garner bipartisan support; with a Roll Call of 253 to 174, it picked up 15 more votes since last year's tally. With another Bush veto imminent, however, the House is still 37 votes shy of the 2/3 majority necessary to override that veto.
H.R. 3 was part of the Democrats' “100 Hours Agenda,” which also included implementing 9/11 Commission recommendations, increasing the minimum wage, and mandating that the federal government negotiate for lower prescription drug costs. Even with the prospect of another Presidential veto, the Democrats included the stem cell bill on its agenda to emphasize the growing public support for stem cells research; recent polls by the Civil Society Institute among others indicate that the majority of the American public supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The Senate also plans to take up the topic and has introduced a companion bill (S. 5). But unlike the House, it held a hearing on the legislation prior to the floor vote, which may occur in February. Three scientists and a 15-year-old diabetic testified before the January 19 joint hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee's Labor-HHS panel. Should the bill receive any amendments, they would come from the Senate, where there is more hope for a veto-proof majority.
The Senate’s more methodical approach to addressing this complex subject may also become mired in debates over other stem-cell related legislation. For example, Sen. John Isakson (R-GA) recently introduced a bill that would allow federally funded scientists to conduct research on stem cell lines created from ‘non-viable’ embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics. It is anticipated that other bills that address alternative methods for stem cell research will join the growing portfolio.
Other bills to watch on the health front include the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which would bar employers and health insurers from discriminating against people on the basis of genetic information. Previously, the bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House. This year, a bill (H.R. 493) was introduced in the House with a bipartisan group of 143 original cosponsors (90R, 53D). Proponents are optimistic that this could be the year for the bill to sail through to the President's desk and Bush has already pledged to sign the bill.
-- Erin Heath
Competitiveness and innovation will once again be key components of discussions on science and technology policy in the 110th Congress. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman of the renamed House Committee on Science and Technology, listed innovation at the top of his list of priorities for the committee and renamed one of the subcommittees to Technology & Innovation as a reflection of its importance. Gordon has already re-introduced several pieces of legislation he supported in the 109th Congress, and announced his intention to consider them early in the session.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the Democrats’ Innovation Agenda in the 109th Congress, continues to emphasize the importance of competitiveness, innovation and education to the future of the Nation. During the Democratic leaders’ January 19 State of the Union address, Pelosi reaffirmed her commitment to research and development funding, stating “We must commit to doubling federal funding for basic research and development in the physical sciences.” She also discussed the importance of science education, stating, “Innovation and economic growth begins in America's classrooms. To create a new generation of innovators, we must fund No Child Left Behind so that we can encourage science and math education, taught by the most qualified and effective teachers.”
Early the in the 110th Congress, Rep. Gordon introduced "10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds" Science and Math Scholarship Act (H.R. 362) and Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act (H.R. 363), versions of which passed the Science Committee in June of last year but did not make it to the House floor.
Sowing the Seeds would authorize a 10% funding increase per year for basic research in the physical sciences at NSF, NIST, DOE, NASA and the Department of Defense; authorizes a NSF and DOE grant program for early-career researchers; and establishes a national coordination office under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to prioritize university and national research infrastructure needs.
“10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds" is emblematic of the sentiment that building upon existing programs is a more effective strategy than creating many new programs. This bill would expand NSF's Robert Noyce Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors who commit to teaching science or math at elementary and secondary schools; authorizes summer teacher training institutes at NSF and DOE; prioritizes teacher training within NSF's Math and Science Partnership program; and amends NSF's STEM Talent Expansion program to improve undergraduate STEM education.
Rep. Ehlers (R-MI) has also introduced a package of four bills (H.R. 35 - H.R. 38) to address science and math education. The bills would amend No Child Left Behind to require that states' accountability metrics, which currently focus on reading and math, also include the results of the science assessments; create tax credits for science and math teachers as well as for businesses that donate new equipment or teacher training to schools; and enhance science and math readiness for children in the Head Start program.
Gordon also reintroduced H.R. 364, similar a bill he supported – but that did not advance in the last Congress - to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E). ARPA-E, patterned after the successful Department of Defense DARPA program, would “provide aggressive funding for innovative, out-of-the-box research projects carried out by industry, universities and consortia of groups, including federal laboratories….to develop new technologies addressing the nation's most pressing energy problems.” Though it is listed as a competitiveness bill, ARPA-E will likely also draw attention during discussions of energy security and climate change.
The Senate is expected to take up the topic of innovation again, as the issue drew broad bipartisan support in the 109th Congress. No bills have yet been introduced, but negotiations are underway.
-- Kasey White
A few days after the new 110th Congress convened, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) expressed their intent to introduce bipartisan, bicameral legislation to establish voluntary standards for science and mathematics education.
The Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for All Kids (SPEAK) Act, which was formally introduced by Ehlers on January 9th (H.R. 325), tasks the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) with creating and/or adopting educational content standards in math and science fields for grades K-12. The NAGB was created by Congress in 1988 as an independent group comprised of state governors, legislators, and education officials, as well as educators and private-sector representatives. NAGB sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP—also known as the ‘Nation’s Report Card'—assesses student academic achievement in reading and math every two years.
The legislation, which has yet to be formally introduced by Sen. Dodd, amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and would require science and mathematics as a mandatory part of the NAEP assessments. According to the bill, the standards are to “reflect the knowledge students need to enter college or the workforce and compete in the global economy.” To accomplish this task the NAGB is to review existing standards developed by science organizations and states; analyze reports and scientific studies; and compare education content standards with international standards.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act each state sets its own academic standards, state assessments and definitions of proficiency with respect to science and mathematics. The SPEAK Act attempts to create a uniform goal of what constitutes rigorous content standards. The science and math standards to be created by the NAGB as authorized through the bill, however, are considered voluntary and states may or may not choose to put them into effect.
Thus, in order to motivate states to adopt the standards the legislation creates an ‘American Standards Incentive Fund’ as a financial incentive. The fund would provide up to $4 million in grants to states over a four year period to implement the standards. The funds can be used, for example, in setting teacher certification and professional development requirements, aligning state academic assessment to parallel the NAGB recommended standards, and develop curricula and instructional materials that reflect the science and math content standards.
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also introduced a bill on education standards. The States Using Collaboration and Coordination to Enhance Standards for Students (SUCCESS) Act would require that NAEP “sets a national benchmark which is internationally competitive.” Although the text of the bill is not available, a summary issued by the Senators office states that the legislation will create P-16 Preparedness Councils that are to involve local education, business, military, and higher education representatives in establishing common state standards. It also states that federal funds would be made available to implement the standards.
Neither of the bills has yet to be scheduled for mark up.
-- Joanne Carney
Nuclear Warheads: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program and the Life Extension Program (RL33748) This report weighs Congress’ options for maintaining the country’s dated nuclear stockpile: the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Life Extension Program (LEP) and the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). This report concludes that both of these programs lack the confidence provided by nuclear testing. The LEP does not satisfy nuclear test credibility because the cumulative effect of the alterations made to the warheads over the years make past nuclear tests unreliable assessments of the current weapons, while the weapons created under the RRW program have never been nuclear tested and therefore also cannot claim nuclear test credibility. The report recommends further studies and investigations before Congress must make a decision between these two programs in 2010.
- Restructuring EPA’s Libraries: Background and Issues for Congress (RS22533)
This report addresses the issues associated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s attempts to modernize its libraries, which have resulted in the closure of some of its libraries. Many have criticized these closings for obstructing public access to important environmental data, as the libraries serve both the scientific community as wells as the public. Members of Congress, library professional associations, and public interest groups have questioned the continued availability of EPA’s collections as the agency restructures its libraries.
Science, Business, Regulatory, and Intellectual Property Issues Cited as Hampering Drug Development Efforts (GAO-07-49)
This GAO report found that while pharmaceutical R&D spending increased by 147 percent from 1993 to 2004, the number of new drug applications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased by only 38 percent. GAO identified the inability of pharmaceutical companies to convert new scientific discoveries into operative drugs; market-driven drug research decisions; lack of qualified researchers; intellectual property laws; and uncertainty in drug safety regulations as the sources of declining pharmaceutical productivity and innovation.
- Suggested Areas for Oversight for the 110th Congress (GAO-07-235R)
The GAO released a letter report for the 110th Congress with their recommendations of areas and issues that need oversight and improvement. The report recommends setting near-term goals of enhancing border control, improving efforts to avoid nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons proliferation, and improving fair collection of oil royalties. It also identifies policies and programs that need to be reformed or reanalyzed, including Medicare and Medicaid, efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. education system’s competitiveness.
Dearth of Evidence on Pandemic Flu Interventions
The National Academy’s Committee on Modeling Community Containment of Pandemic Influenza released a letter report evaluating and making recommendations on the nation’s influenza outbreak models and plans. The committee recommended that legislators take advantage of models’ efficient organization of the current pandemic mitigation data, but cautioned that the unknown factors and uncertainties of influenza and future events are a limitation in all models. The report recommends developing flexible models that allow for alternative modes of intervention adapted to each situation, improving real-time information flow in a pandemic, and holding regular forums to discuss pandemic mitigation plans.
- Scientific Review of the Proposed Risk Assessment Bulletin from the Office of Management and Budget (ISBN: 0309104777)
This NRC report found the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s draft bulletin stipulating technical standards for government risk assessments “fundamentally flawed.” OMB heeded the committee’s recommendation and will not finalize the bulletin in its current form. The report cited flaws, including the bulletin’s inconsistency with previous recommendations in preceding reports, and found impractical the bulletin’s creation of two categories of risk assessments: the general and the influential.
- Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (ISBN: 0309103878)
This NRC report explores NASA’s and NOAA’s need to obtain funding for the maintenance and improvement of aged and fading instruments currently used by environmental satellites that are essential for studying climate change, predicting natural disasters, and observing land use. If these programs continue to operate at current funding rates, their effectiveness will decrease by 40% by the end of this decade. The report recommends adding 17 satellite missions to those already scheduled in order to update instruments scheduled to stop functioning by 2010 and resuming eliminated or frozen earth observation programs. The report recommends that Office of Science and Technology Policy develop and implement a plan for achieving these goals.
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AAAS Urges Support, Thanks Supporters for Passing the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner sent a January 8 letter to Members of the House, urging support for a bill to expand the current federal policy to permit researchers to gain greater access to new embryonic stem cell lines. Dr. Leshner later sent a letter to members, thanking them for their support of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which passed 253 to 174. (January 18, 2007)
AAAS Appeals to the White House for Increased R&D Funding Levels in 2007
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner sent a letter to the White House, expressing the importance of increased funding for federal R&D in 2007 and urging the White House for its continued support on this issue. (January 11, 2007)
AAAS Applauds Introduction of the SPEAK Act
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner wrote a letter to Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Vernon Ehlers applauding their efforts to advance science and math education with nationwide standards by introducing the SPEAK Act. (January 8, 2007)
AAAS Resources Available
Visit the AAAS website to view a new Global Climate Change resources website and follow the conclusions of the FY07 appropriations process and the kickoff of the FY08 process on the R&D budget and policy program website.
A new study has found that a diverse mix of prairie grasses produces biofuels more efficiently than corn and soybeans, even when grown on sub-par soil. In addition, the grassland species store much off their mass in their roots, allowing them to sequester more carbon than they produce, an additional resource in addressing global climate change.
Tilman, David Jason Hill, and Clarence Lehman, "Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low- Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass, " Science 8 December 2006: 1598-1600.