Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: February 2007
On February 5, President Bush released his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2008. The proposal would increase funding for three key physical science agencies as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI): the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories.
However, the budget proposal would cut funding for most other research-oriented agencies in the federal government. Though the total federal investment in R&D in the FY 2008 budget request would increase 1.4 percent to $143.0 billion, the entire increase and more would go to development funding, primarily for defense weapons and NASA spacecraft. As a result, the federal investment in basic and applied research would decline 2.0 percent to $55.4 billion, with cuts to many agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Despite an increase for oceans research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would see its R&D funding decline 9.5 percent. In inflation-adjusted terms, the basic and applied research portfolio would fall for the fourth year in a row. In fact, overall federal funding for the major science and engineering disciplines is now in decline. This is the case even in the physical sciences, where gains in the ACI agencies have been more than offset by cuts in scientific research programs at NASA and DOD.
After the President’s FY 2008 budget was released, and more than one third of the way through the fiscal year, the FY 2007 appropriations process came to a close. The ‘joint funding resolution,’ signed into law on February 15, provides funding for all programs covered by the nine FY 2007 appropriations bills that remained unfinished at the end of the 109th Congress. It funds most domestic programs at their FY 2006 levels, but there are increases for some programs.
Several federal R&D programs are among the ones selected for increases: NSF R&D would increase 7%, DOE Office of Science R&D would increase 6%, and NIST labs would receive 10% increases, the National Institutes of Health would receive an inflationary increase instead of flat funding, energy R&D funding would climb dramatically, and several R&D programs that had been operating at reduced funding levels under stop-gap funding measures would see their budgets boosted back to last year’s levels. In addition, the spending bill is unusual in that it contains no congressionally-designated earmarks, which in some cases results in large increases for core R&D programs within flat or declining overall budgets.
The FY 2007 budget contains a total federal R&D investment of $139.9 billion, an increase of 3.4% above FY 2006. However, as is the case in the FY 2008 budget proposal, the bulk of the increase would go to development programs. The federal investment in basic and applied research would rise 0.2 percent to $56.8 billion.
A comprehensive analysis of the federal budget for R&D in FY 2007 and proposed for FY 2008 is available on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website.
-- Kei Koizumi and Kasey White
Though Congress has been holding hearings on climate change at a blistering pace – as many as four were held concurrently on a recent Tuesday – they have not resulted in legislative action. A unique, full-day Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on January 30 illustrated the difficulty in reaching consensus. Members were invited to present their views on climate change, and a host of them did. A number of the Senators speaking that day, including Senators Johnny Isakson, Kit Bond, Larry Craig, Hillary Clinton, Ben Cardin, Carl Levin, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain, agreed that increased R&D and swift action in promoting new technology and innovation was needed to address climate change. A cap-and-trade policy – the centerpiece of many climate change bills – was far more polarizing. To access copies of the statements made by the participating Senators, go to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works website.
Climate Change Science and Economics
The Summary for Policymakers of “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,” the first of three reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be completed this year, was released on February 2. The House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on the report several days later that attracted former Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert and crowds large enough to fill an overflow room. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the first Speaker of the House to testify on climate change. Pelosi said that mandatory action is needed to address global warming, which she called “as immediate to people as their neighborhood, as global as the planet itself.” She reiterated her call for legislation to be out of committees by June 1 in order to have a bill passed by July 4. Pelosi also linked addressing climate change with innovation, an issue that had broad support in the last Congress. Tensions in the committee arose when Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) refused to waive a procedural rule – and forced Pelosi to answer questions from himself and Rep. Akin (R-MO). In response to a question, Pelosi stated that she has gradually become open to exploring the use of nuclear energy, a change from her earlier positions on the issue.
The committee heard from four scientists who participated in the IPCC process: Dr. Susan Soloman, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Dr. Richard Alley, and Dr. Gerard Meehl. The scientists testified on the report’s key findings, which include “warming of the climate systems is unequivocal” and is “very likely (>90%) due to human activities.” The report assessed the degree to which events such as heat waves, tropical storms and droughts have already been affected by human–induced climate change and trends for the future. The report also found that a doubling of greenhouse gas emissions from pre-industrial times would result in temperature increases in the range of 2-4.5°C, with the best estimate of this “climate sensitivity” 3° C. Taking this into account, temperatures in 2100 would rise 1.1-6.4°C, with the largest difference in projections coming from variability in future energy and land use.
Many of the questions by Members at the hearing focused on potential solutions to addressing climate change and their costs. The witnesses repeatedly stated that they were physical scientists, not policymakers, and referred to the forthcoming IPCC reports on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Working Group II) and Mitigation (Working Group III). Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) tried to separate responsibility, stating, “The scientists have done their job. Now, it is time for us – the policymakers – to do ours.”
The economics of climate was the subject of a February 13 hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The committee heard from Sir Nicholas Stern, principal author of the Stern Review: the Economics of Climate Change, who made his Hill debut along with economists Dr. Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University, and Dr. Henry Jacoby, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) noted that the U.S. has done too little on climate change because lawmakers are not sure if climate change is real and worry about the potential negative economic consequences of action. Bingaman stated the IPCC report did much to lay to rest the concerns about the science, and the Stern report brings the costs of inaction to the discussion.
Stern focused on the findings of his report, mainly that measures to address climate change would cost approximately 1-3% global gross domestic product (GDP), while the impacts of unabated climate change could reach 5-20% GDP. He championed the benefits of early action, noting future costs of climate change would be significantly greater if governments failed to act soon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stern stressed that all nations, rich and poor, must take part in reducing the impacts of climate change.
Yohe and Jacoby supported the general conclusions of the Stern report, mainly that the Earth is warming and addressing it sooner rather than later will lower both the cost of action and costs of impacts. Jacoby examined criticisms of some of the economic tools used in the report, including the calculation of the discount rate (economic losses weighed over time), the inclusion of catastrophic events in damage costs, and the monetary measures of nonmarket effects, such as species migration and mortality. Yohe noted that the economics community is continuing to research these issues, which may result in different cost estimates, but stated that the main conclusions outlined in the Stern report are sound.
Jacoby, however, acknowledged the difficulty in predicting the future in these studies, as actions by the United States will likely spur action abroad and therefore cannot be analyzed alone, while Yohe stressed the incremental nature of climate policy, calling it “impossible to write climate policy in 2007 for the rest of the century.”
Climate Change Legislation
Several new bills have been introduced with mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases (See January 2007 STC newsletter for additional information).
On February 2, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced S. 485, The Global Warming Reduction Act of 2007, which would amend the Clean Air Act to address climate change. The bill would freeze U.S. emissions in 2010 and use an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce them so that they are 65 percent below 2000 emissions levels by 2050. The bill includes a requirement that the U.S. derive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It calls for National Research Council studies every two years on the probability of avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and the national progress made to avoid that interference. It also would establish a National Climate Change Vulnerability and Resilience Program to evaluate and make recommendations about local, regional, and national vulnerability and resilience to impacts relating to longer-term climatic changes and shorter-term climatic variations.
In the House, Rep. John Olver (D-MA) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) joined together as they have in the previous two sessions of Congress to introduce H.R. 620, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2007, which currently has more than 100 cosponsors. Starting in 2010, the bill would cap U.S. aggregate greenhouse gas emissions for the covered sectors at the 2000 level. The bill is considered a companion to the McCain-Lieberman plan, though slightly more aggressive on cuts and slightly less reliant on new technology.
EPA Actions Investigated
When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule in December of 2006 that would raise the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) minimum reporting threshold from 500 to 2,000 pounds of releases per chemical, it prompted a thunder of outcries. The new threshold would allow companies to release four times as much of the almost 650 toxic chemicals as originally allowed before having to report them. Interest groups and Members of Congress alike decried the rollbacks as a thinly-veiled plot to ease the burden of large corporations while placing the public in danger. EPA officials argued the rollbacks provide incentives for companies to reduce chemical releases and will benefit small businesses grossly encumbered by boundless paperwork.
Early this February, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing to address the changes to the TRI and a variety of other EPA proposals, including EPA library closures.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was pressed by a number of Senators who questioned the EPA’s motivation and ultimate goal in increasing the TRI threshold. The Small Business Association came to Johnson’s defense, arguing that the burden of reporting their chemical releases using the detailed Form R rather than the simplified Form A is too high – in time and therefore cost – for small businesses struggling to survive.
The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO), John Stevenson, testified that the EPA had not complied with its own policy-making procedures when establishing the new reporting threshold by failing to both request and consider input from stakeholders. The GAO estimates that information previously provided by 22,000 Form Rs would no longer be available under the new policy, reducing the public’s access to information on toxic chemicals. An additional 3,500 facilities would no longer be required to submit any reports on their toxic releases. The GAO calculated that facilities would save less than $900 a year as a result of the new policy.
Responding to the TRI changes, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Pallone (D-NJ) have introduced companion legislation, S.595 and H.R.1055, reinstating the original reporting threshold. Senator Lautenberg, who authored the TRI in 1986, argues that the "people have a right to know about the toxic chemicals bordering their backyards, and we are here to restore that right."
Senators also expressed their concern about the closure of some of EPA’s libraries. (see Dec. 2006 STC newsletter). EPA has responded to this and other congressional inquiries by announcing that it will halt library closures until it can satisfy congressional concern.
- Lina Karaoglanova
The House Education and Labor Committee approved H.R. 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA Act) on February 14. Introduced by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Judy Biggert (R-IL), the bill protects personal genetic information held by insurers and employers. The act would bar employers from making employee status decisions based on genetic information and prohibit insurers from using genetic information to discriminate against healthy individuals with genetic predispositions to certain diseases.
The mark up contained debate on several amendments. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) expressed concern that the bill fails to protect embryos and children in the adoption process against potential genetic discrimination. They presented the committee with scenarios of women pressured by insurance companies to abort fetuses found to be more genetically prone to certain diseases. The Walberg/Hoekstra amendment, which many Members characterized as a pro-life ploy, was defeated by a 27-20 vote. Representative John Kline (R-MN) offered an amendment stipulating detailed instructions for employer genetic record keeping practices, which was adopted.
Despite its movement through committee, the bill will not be up for an immediate floor vote. The House Committees on Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means must first consider the bill before it makes its way to the floor.
The GINA Act, first introduced nearly 10 years ago, has historically passed the Senate but found its end in the House. In the absence of federal regulation, states have moved forward on the issue; 41 states prohibit health insurance discrimination and 34 states protect their citizens in the workplace. The Senate Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the bill in late January by a vote of 19-2 and President Bush has expressed his support for the legislation.
--- Lina Karaoglanova
“I don’t want politically correct science… I want the best science.” is how Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) began his tenure as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee held its first hearing of the 110th Congress on January 30 by addressing political interference with climate science. The hearing stemmed from actions in the last Congress, where now Chairman Waxman and Ranking Member Tom Davis (R-VA) requested information from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) surrounding the editing of climate change documents by political appointees. Despite multiple requests, the committee leaders were not yet satisfied with the response. According to Congress Daily, the issue may be nearing resolution. CEQ aides have agreed to provide the committee with one box of documents weekly in an effort to complete the request by March 30.
Though the hearing was focused on political interference, many of the Members, whose opening statements collectively lasted 1.5 hours, used it as a forum for their views on the reality of climate change and economic impacts of solutions.
No witnesses from the Administration appeared at the hearing, which focused heavily on a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that found more than half of government scientists who responded to their survey had “personally experienced” interference with their work, for a total of at least 435 incidents. UCS Senior Scientist Francesca Grifo presented findings from the report, entitled Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science, which also found nearly half of respondents perceived or experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work. Dr. Drew Shindell, a NASA scientist, testified about how NASA public affairs staff had edited press releases on his scientific research in a way that downplayed the risk of climate change. He noted that, beginning in 2004, all interviews on climate change – but not other earth or space science research – required the presence of a NASA press officer.
Rick Piltz, a former employee in the Climate Change Science Program office, said he resigned in 2005 after objecting to efforts by industry groups and CEQ officials to weaken or delete language in official reports on global warming. He cited the suppression of the 2000 National Assessment on Climate Change Impacts as another example of political interference with climate change.
Soon after, on February 7, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a similar hearing on “Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity.”
Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) referenced the UCS study, calling the allegations of political interference in climate change “serious allegations requiring timely and serious investigation.
Bill Brennan, NOAA Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Acting Chairman, Climate Change Science Program, praised the Administration’s climate change activities, citing the work of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) as well as the $9 billion that the government has spent on related research since 2002. He refuted UCS’s claims, saying that while government scientists are encouraged to work with public affairs staff to better communicate their findings to the public, they are not required to do so. James Mahoney, former director of CCSP, agreed with Brennan and added that NOAA is improving its communications policies, and will release new policies in the near future. As the only Administration official testifying, Brennan was the target of many pointed questions. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) attacked him for inaction on addressing climate change that he said could be “almost criminal.”
Sen. Bill Nelson brought up NASA’s outdated earth observation satellites, implying that the lack of funding for the satellite replacements reflects the Administration’s intent to curtail climate change research. Cuts to the observing system, which provides key climate change data, were the subject of an NRC report and House Science and Technology Committee hearing.
Piltz also questioned the Administration's commitment to funding climate change research, noting that the Administration’s $1.5 billion budget for climate change research is 30 percent less than the budget four years ago.
-- Kasey White and Lina Karaoglanova
Global Climate Change and Wildlife (RS22597)
This report examines the effects of global climate change on wildlife, their ability to adapt, and the possibility of mass extinctions. This report evaluated instances of species adaptation and extinction including the effects of range shifts, phenological changes, evolution, and population reaction to habitat loss. Concerns over the atypically rapid pace of today’s climate change has led experts to conclude that many species may not have enough time to adapt to the new climate. The report identifies several policy issues that are likely to arise as climate change impacts more and more species, such as adjustments to the Endangered Species Act to account for changes in habitats and ranges.
Climate Change: The Kyoto Protocol and International Actions (RL33826)
This report outlines the history and structure of the Kyoto Protocol and the role of the U.S. in related international affairs. The report assesses the ability of current parties to meet their emissions targets, their current emissions status, and how that will affect post-Kyoto strategies in 2012. The report also expands on the volunteer-only emissions cuts position that the U.S. is taking, such as the creation of Asian Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.
Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs (GAO-07-106)
This report concludes that it is unlikely that the U.S. will be able to shrink its oil and natural gas dependence and replace it with alternative energy sources without significantly more R&D funding than currently available. Investment in energy R&D has been falling since 1978, and is now only 15 percent of those levels. Key research areas should include: developing cost-effective technologies to produce and transport ethanol, creating new wind technologies to expand into low wind and offshore locations, improving solar technologies that can better compete with conventional technologies, and developing advanced clean coal technologies.
GAO FORUM: Global Competitiveness: Implications for the Nation’s Higher Education System (GAO-07-135SP)
This report summarizes the findings of a meeting of national leaders to examine recent trends in international student enrollment in U.S. universities, which has declined since September 11, 2001. This report identified increased higher education opportunities abroad, climbing competition from nations with more successful recruiting approaches, growing tuition costs of U.S. universities, and barriers established by U.S. immigration policy as the drivers of the declining international student enrollment in the U.S.
U.S.-Russian Collaboration in Combating Radiological Terrorism ( ISBN: 0309104106)
This report finds that Russia’s inadequate protection of its ionizing radiation sources (IRSs) create a risk to the U.S., especially in missions abroad. The report encourages ongoing Department of Energy (DOE) and Russian efforts to establish improved security for IRSs, recommending the development of a comprehensive plan to reduce the overall risk of IRS theft and terrorism. The plan should focus on detection and tracking of IRSs, as well as the end of IRS life cycles and secure disposal.
Successful Response Starts with a Map: Improving Geospatial Support for Disaster Management (ISBN: 0309103401)
This NRC report concludes that improving the role of geospatial data and tools in emergency management plans rests in enhanced training, inter-agency coordination, data sharing, and planning and preparedness. The report recommends that the National Science Foundation (NSF) and government agencies increase investment in adapting and improving geospatial tools for specific circumstance at every stage of disaster management. It also suggests greater emphasis on geospatial data and tools in academic programs focusing on disaster management and enhanced funding to encourage increased numbers of geospatial professionals.
- Conducting Effective Global Change Assessments (ISBN-10: 0-309-10544-7)
This report evaluates the current climate change assessment process to determine ways to improve and enhance its usefulness to policymakers. Unambiguous mandates, adequate and consistent funding, reasonable timelines and goals, clear and strong leadership and organization structure, and a realistic understanding and treatment of uncertainties are vital for an effective assessment process.
- Innovation Inducement Prizes at the National Science Foundation (ISBN-10: 0-309-10465-3)
This report underscores the importance of inducement prizes in promoting discovery and innovation and recommends that the NSF invest in such endeavors. Inducement prizes would be awarded to individuals or groups in a competition setting for scientific and technical achievements or solutions to preexisting problems. The report recommends that permanent staff be assigned to these projects in a new office, possibly the Office of Innovation Prizes, with a stable budget.
- Congressional Budget Office
CBO Budget Options Report: February 2007
The Congressional Budget Office released a report outlining over 250 budget options available to Members of Congress to decrease government spending. Science and technology programs offered for possible elimination include NSF’s funding of math and science education research, NASA’s Shuttle Program, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, and the Agriculture Department’s Competitive Grant Program. Also listed are several DOE initiatives, such as renewable energy R&D funding, the Fossil Fuel Applied Research Programs, the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, and several nuclear energy research programs. The report also proposes delaying work on the International Space Station (ISS) and NASA’s Constellation program.
- The Commission on No Child Left Behind
Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children
The Commission on No Child Left Behind has released its report outlining the law’s shortcomings and made recommendations for ways to improve it. The Commission emphasized the importance of quality teachers and parity in Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools. The report suggested both teachers and principles should have to prove their effectiveness in the classroom, giving those who are unqualified three years to reach the benchmark. The Commission recognized the benefits of NCLB’s requirement for every school to demonstrate “adequately yearly progress” (AYP) but recommended making the AYP calculations more flexible and detailed. Other recommendations include improving and expanding NCLB’s supplemental education services (SES) to include more students, allocating more funds to conduct nationwide studies of the SES, and doubling the Dept. of Education R&D budget. The Commission recommends that school districts reassess their standard to better meet college and employer requirements.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the DOE
The Future of Geothermal Energy
Enhanced (or engineered) Geothermal Systems (EGS) are engineered reservoirs that extract heat from low permeability and/or porosity geothermal resources and are more widely available than conventional geothermal energy sources. The report concluded that EGS could produce 100GWe or more cost competitive generating capacity in the next 50 years if adequate funding is made available for R&D. The report recommended establishing an interagency, multiyear, national program to research EGS and developing policies for EGS to successfully enter and compete in US energy markets.
- Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council
Energy [R]evolution – Sustainable World Energy Outlook
Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) released a report that found carbon dioxide emissions can be cut in half within the next 40 years if humans embrace energy efficiency and utilize all renewable resources currently available. The Energy [R]evolution’s blueprints to a successful renewable energy world do not include nuclear energy and clean-coal technology.
BACK TO TOP
AAAS Board of Directors Releases Statement on Climate Change.
The statement calls climate change "a growing threat to society" and notes, "Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be." (February 18, 2007)
AAAS CEO Testifies Before House Appropriations Subcommittee
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies on February 28. Dr. Leshner noted, "We are concerned that while scientific research has been brought to the forefront of discussions for its contributions to the future of the Nation, overall science funding is on the decline, sending a stark warning signal to those who would consider committing their futures to a career in the sciences and leaving many important research inquiries unfunded."
AAAS Resources Available
Visit the AAAS website to view a new S&T Legislation Tracker with updates on bills relating to climate change, stem cell research, education, innovation and more.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
"Measurement and Statistical Analysis of Human Rights: A Model"
8 March 2007; 12:30 to 2:00 p.m.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center Room 9
The AAAS Science and Human Rights Program will co-sponsor a discussion on how quantitative data can be used to study human rights issues around the world. Brian J. Grim, senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, will describe a project that uses the U.S. State Departments International Religious Freedom Reports as the primary information source to document religious persecution and examine how this research could be extended to the measurement and statistical analysis of other human rights issues.
Please RSVP online.
A Mars spacecraft has provided new evidence that fluids, likely including water, once flowed widely through underlying bedrock in a canyon that is part of the great Martian rift valley. New color images from the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show an equatorial landscape of hills composed of dozens of alternating layers of dark- and light-toned rocks, and crossed by dark sand dunes, which suggests that subsurface fluids—probably water, liquid carbon dioxide or a combination of the two—once flowed abundantly in the western Candor Chasma region of Mars.
Okubo and McEwen, "Fracture-Controlled Paleo-Fluid Flow in Candor Chasma, Mars" 16 February 2007, Science, pp. 983-985 .