Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
In a 219-212 vote late on June 26, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), a massive 1400-page bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions and transform the nation’s energy supply. The bill establishes a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. It requires electric utilities to meet 20% of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020, mandates new energy-saving standards for buildings, appliances, and industry, and contains billions in investments for clean energy technology, including the creation of eight clean energy innovation centers, partnerships of universities, NGOs, and state institutions with a focus on energy research and commercialization.
ACES also includes provisions (H.R. 2407) passed by the House Science and Technology Committee to establish a National Climate Service within NOAA, including an interagency planning process coordinated through the National Science and Technology Council.
The bill’s passage occurred after concessions made to placate the agriculture community, led by Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN). Bill sponsors Waxman (D-CA) and Markey (D-MA) agreed to let the USDA oversee agriculture offsets, rather than EPA, and postponed EPA’s enactment of provisions in the 2007 Energy Bill that instructed the agency to assess the greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels. President Obama noted his support for the legislation, but cautioned against provisions that would create tariffs for products from countries without comparable legislation in 2020.
The Senate has made progress on an energy bill, with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approving the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 by a 15-8 vote on June 17 after holding 11 markups and considering more than 200 amendments. The bill does not contain a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions but includes a number of provisions to encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy. The legislation sets renewable-energy standards requiring electric utilities to use 15 percent renewable energy by 2021, with 4 percent of that requirement allowed through energy efficiency measures – lower than the 20 percent standard in ACES.
The bill contains provisions examining the links between energy and water, calling for studies by the National Academies of Science, Energy Information Administration, and Secretary of Energy on water use in electricity generation and methods to conserve both water and energy.
The Energy Innovation and Workforce Development Title proposes to double the authorization level of Department of Energy’s energy R&D program to $6.56 billion over five years. Provisions addressing energy R&D grand challenges and energy-related education, with a focus on subsurface geosciences and engineering fields, are also included.
The legislation establishes a national indemnity program through DOE for up to 10 commercial-scale carbon capture and sequestration projects. The legislation also maps out a framework for final closure and longtime stewardship for geological storage sites for carbon dioxide.
Senate leaders have expressed hope of moving a climate bill out of committee before the August recess, with floor action later in the fall, but must contend with a busy agenda that includes health care reform, Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and appropriations bills.
-- Kasey White
Less than one month after new Food and Drug Administration chief Margaret Hamburg took the helm, Congress passed a bill to give her agency the authority to regulate tobacco products.
The FDA will now be able to ban some of the chemicals in tobacco products and set other product standards. To do this, it will establish a tobacco regulatory office, which will include a scientific advisory panel on tobacco-related issues, that will be financed by millions in industry fees.
The passage of this bill capped a years-long effort by public health advocates and some members of Congress, and it follows a 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine that called for FDA to have such regulatory authority. Critics of the bill say it defies logic to put a product that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans annually under the jurisdiction of the FDA—a public health agency. But that argument didn't resonate with a wide majority of members of Congress, nor with President Obama, who signed the bill into law.
Congress isn't stopping with tobacco. Bills to upgrade the nation's food safety system and to create a regulatory pathway for generic biologic drugs [see July 2007 STC] are both in play in the House.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee just passed its food safety bill, an issue that committee leaders have been working to address for years amid a slew of high-profile food contamination cases. The bill would give FDA more authority, such as the right to impose mandatory food recalls, and resources, via food facility fees and other means, to monitor food safety. In addition to paying the new fees, food facilities would have to develop food safety plans and assess potential risks. The bill also includes requirements for food plant inspections and on the creation of a food tracing system.
Members of the same committee are grappling with the issue of generic biologic drugs. Two bills include vastly different exclusivity periods for brand-name manufacturers to market their drugs. Chairman Henry Waxman's bipartisan bill would allow exclusivity of five years, while a bill championed by Ranking Member Joe Barton and Democrat Anna Eshoo features a 12-year exclusivity period more friendly to brand-name drug companies. The Federal Trade Commission recently gave the Waxman bill a boost by releasing a report stating that drug companies would not need a 12-year period. The Obama Administration recently threw its weight behind the idea of a seven-year exclusivity period, calling it a "generous compromise." On the Senate side, the generic biologics issue is being handled as part of the broader health care reform effort.
Meanwhile, on Hamburg's end, one of the agency's first high-profile actions under her watch was to institute a “Transparency Task Force,” which involved a blog and a public meeting seeking feedback on how to enhance the agency's transparency.
-- Erin Heath
Despite the late release of the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2010, both the House and Senate set an ambitious goal of having all twelve appropriations bills completed before the August recess. Both chambers initially began on track to meet that goal, quickly marking up a series of bills, but only the House managed to pass any legislation by the end of June. With only two months of scheduled legislative sessions left before the new fiscal year begins October 1, the rumored prospect of an omnibus has already begun to float around Washington.
Before leaving for the July 4th recess, the House passed the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS); Interior and Environment; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; and the Energy and Water appropriations bills. The same bills have been marked up by the Senate Appropriations Committee and wait to be scheduled for a floor vote.
The CJS bill (H.R. 2847) passed the House by a vote of 259-157 and includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The measure would provide $6.9 billion for NSF, a 2 percent reduction compared to the President’s request of $7.045 billion but a 7 percent increase over FY 2009 levels. NASA would receive $18.2 billion, a $421 million increase above FY 2009 but a cut compared to the $18.7 billion request. NOAA would grow to $4.6 billion (a $238 million increase), while NIST would decrease to $781 million but see its R&D funding increase.
After its passage, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy expressing concern over reductions (compared with the President’s budget requests) to programs within all four agencies.
The House Interior and Environment appropriations bill passed on June 26, providing $850 million for EPA’s science and technology programs, in addition to $420 million for global climate change adaptation and research. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill contained $580 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research, which is equal to the President’s request - a 13.7 percent ($70 million) increase above FY 2009.
The Senate CJS Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, marked up its bill and provides more generous funding levels for almost all of the research and development (R&D) funding agencies. NASA would receive the full request of $18.7 billion, $4.8 billion would go to NOAA and nearly $879 million would be allocated for NIST. NSF would receive $6.9 billion - the same level as the House bill.
Another difference between the two chambers occurs in the accompanying report to the Senate CJS appropriations bill. The report stipulates that NASA may not adjust its FY 2010 budget to implement any recommendations that may arise from the Human Spaceflight Commission study that is due later this summer. Rather any budgetary changes to NASA programs resulting from the study should be submitted as part of the FY 2011 budget request.
The study, chaired by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, is expected to lay out a long-term vision for NASA’s human and robotic exploration missions. The Senate CJS Subcommittee is led by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), two states with prominent NASA Centers.
The Senate Interior and Environment appropriations bill includes $843 million for science and technology programs at the EPA. This is slightly less than the House version but is still an increase of 7 percent ($53 million) over the FY 2009 level.
In other budgetary news, both chambers approved the conference report for the war supplemental appropriation bill, which includes $7.7 billion to respond to the swine flu pandemic. A portion of the funds will go toward the development and purchase of vaccines, antiviral drugs, medical supplies, and diagnostic equipment. Other funds will go for upgrading state and local public health capacity and for domestic and international surveillance. The money is part of the FY 2009 supplemental appropriation package totaling $106 billion, primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-- Joanne Carney
As summer begins, policymakers have shifted their attention to a crucial component of the season: the oceans.
Obama proclaimed June as National Oceans Month, and announced the creation of a task force to create the country’s first national ocean policy. The task force will be headed by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, and will also include top-level officials from the White House and federal agencies. Obama’s memorandum calls for a comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for conservation and resource management within 90 days. The task force also has the responsibility to recommend a framework for marine and coastal spatial planning within 180 days.
Congress honored National Oceans Month as well with legislation and hearings in support of ocean conservation and a national ocean policy.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) has reintroduced his bill, the Ocean Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act of 2009 (H.R.21), also referred to as OCEANS-21. The bill sets out a comprehensive national policy to coordinate the existing 144 different laws that govern the oceans. OCEANS-21 also enhances coordination among all relevant federal agencies, and would establish a national ocean advisor to the President.
Both support and opposition of the bill was heard at a June 18th hearing by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife. Critics see the bill as an unnecessary increase to existing bureaucracy. Advocates, however, champion the bill as recognition of the ocean’s importance to the nation’s economic, social, and environmental welfare, and insist that legislative efforts must accompany the President’s task force. Subcommittee chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) underscored the ineffectiveness of the current “patchwork of uncoordinated laws and policies” to oversee the oceans. Monica Medina of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted the Obama Administration’s support of the principles outlined in H.R.21 and the overwhelming need for a national framework to manage oceanic and coastal resources. Margaret Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Studies, expressed fear that without a coordinated ocean policy, the United States will be unable to meet the future threats to oceans and coastal areas that are posed by climate change.
The June 18th hearing seemed reminiscent of the previous Congress, when Rep. Farr had also pushed OCEANS-21 through the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife. However, the bill was never taken up by the full House Natural Resources Committee or the House Science and Technology Committee, which also had jurisdiction over the bill.
In the Senate, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard also held a hearing earlier this month on the importance of the oceans in the U.S. economy. Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV (D-WV), chairman of the full committee, called for a “comprehensive science-based federal marine planning framework” to support ocean conservation and management. Witnesses spoke of the promise of the “Blue Economy,” the many jobs and economic opportunities dependent on the oceans and coastal areas.
Advocates of a strong, unified ocean policy are hoping that this is the year of action. Over a decade ago, the United Nations declared 1998 the International Year of the Ocean. The Pew Ocean Commission in 2003 and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in 2004 released similar reports calling for a coordinated national ocean policy using an ecosystem-based management approach.
-- Samantha Pearlman
In June the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee approved a bill (S.1233) to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) and increase the percentage of their budgets that some federal science agencies must devote to it. The proposal has been met with opposition from a range of scientific research organizations (including AAAS) that expressed concern that the increase in the formula would have a negative impact on the total basic research budgets of participating agencies.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), would require annual incremental increases in the percentage set-aside for SBIRs, from the current level of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent over a 10-year period. Landrieu had previously noted the importance of the SBIR program to the nation’s economy: "The programs allow small research and development firms – our nation's innovation lifeline – to create high-quality jobs and cutting-edge products."
Currently, every federal department with an extramural research and development (R&D) budget of $100 million or more must devote 2.5 percent of that R&D budget to establish and operate an SBIR program. The program, in existence since 1982, provides three-phase funding assistance to small businesses for 1) scientific or technical feasibility study, 2) R&D, and 3) commercialization. Participating government agencies include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and NASA.
Shortly after the Senate committee markup, both the House Small Business Committee and the Science and Technology Committee reported out a companion bill (H.R. 2965) to reauthorize SBIR. The House version, however, does not change the existing 2.5 percent set-aside for R&D funding agencies that the Senate bill recommends. During the House Science and Technology Committee mark up, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) echoed the concerns expressed by the research community.
“By increasing the set-aside, we would only eat away at the base funding for research available to our scientific agencies,” Ehlers said. “I would much rather see us fight for overall extramural research funding increases, which will equivalently benefit the innovation and tech transfer activities of these programs, and hope that the House conferees will stand strong on this issue in conference with the Senate.”
Both chambers must move quickly to conference the divergent bill as, without reauthorization, the SBIR program will expire at the end of July.
-- Joanne Carney
At a June 9 hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Oversight Subcommittee, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified about the agency’s efforts to stop political interference, restore the role of science, and enhance integrity and peer review. Committee members varied in their assessments of EPA’s reform efforts, with Subcommittee Chair Whitehouse (D-RI) commending Jackson for leading the agency on a process to reestablish itself and increase transparency, while Subcommittee Ranking Member Barrasso (R-WY) disagreed and took issue with the EPA’s recent new automobile regulations.
Most of the hearing centered on proposed changes to EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), which examines the potential human health effects of exposure to chemicals. IRIS has long been criticized for its slow pace and backlog of needed assessments. The Bush Administration made several changes to the program in 2008, notably the addition of reviews of IRIS assessments by the White House Office of Management and Budget and other agencies. These changes were criticized by many in Congress, who felt the extra steps would further slow the process. The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight examined the regulations at a June 11 hearing, where the majority staff released a report charging that these changes allowed the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to manipulate scientific studies coming out of the program. GAO testimony at the hearing also found fault with the Bush-era regulations, finding they “further reduced the timeliness, credibility, and transparency of IRIS assessments.”
In May 2009, EPA announced its intent to scrap these addition interagency reviews and speed the IRIS assessment process to take less than two years. In addition, as part of efforts to make the process more transparent, written comments submitted to EPA during the White House review will be made public. GAO’s Director of Natural Resources and Environment John Stephenson testified at the Senate hearing that EPA’s modifications to IRIS are in line with what the GAO recommended and the process appears to be more efficient, a sentiment echoed by many Members at the hearings.
-- Kasey White and Phillip Chalker
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
- Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the bipartisan Grow Research Opportunities With Taxcredits' Help Act (GROWTH Act), S.1203. This act proposes to make the research and development credit permanent and increase the credit from 14 percent to 20 percent. Currently, the tax credit has to be renewed every year, with the current tax credit set to expire December 31, 2009. To qualify for the tax credit, research expenses would have to be above 50 percent of a company's average for the previous three years. Rep. Kendrick Meek introduced a similar bill in the House earlier in the year (H.R. 422).
- Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) reintroduced legislation (S. 1231, H.R. 2790) calling for voluntary nationwide standards in science education and creating incentives for states to adopt those standards. The Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids (SPEAK) Act was introduced during the last session of Congress but never made it to the floor of either chamber for a vote. This legislation adds science to other efforts to promote national standards, including the recent announcement by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that 46 states will work to develop common core standards for reading and mathematics.
- The House has passed bills to create two coordinating committees as part of the interagency National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act (H.R. 1736) would reestablish the Committee on International Science, Engineering and Technology (CISET), and the STEM Education Coordination Act (H.R. 1709) would create an NSTC committee to coordinate federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education programs.
- On June 17 the House Science and Technology Committee held an oversight hearing on the National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, which has long been behind schedule and over budget. NPOESS is jointly run by NASA, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the NOAA. The Government Accountability Office and an independent review team both criticized DOD for its lack of involvement in the tri-agency program management, and recommended that leadership of the program be given to NOAA. The independent review team report also called for the White House to mediate the diverging priorities by deciding the program’s correct path and budget.
- Senators Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) reintroduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a bill designed to ensure free, timely, electronic access to the published results of research sponsored by several federal agencies. The act would require agencies with extramural research budgets of over $100 million, such as the Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services (which includes NIH), EPA, NASA, and NSF, to provide free, online access to their manuscripts within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
- In a party-line vote, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787), a bill to clarify which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. Currently, the Clean Water Act provides protection to “navigable waters of the United States.” The bill would delete “navigable” from the definition, restoring protection as it existed before several recent Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the scope of the bill’s protection.
EPA plans to accelerate its long-delayed scientific review of the health effects of dioxins, with a draft report planned for release by the end of the year and final assessment by the end of 2010. The report will address the latest science on the issue and respond to concerns raised in 2006 in a National Research Council report about an earlier EPA dioxin review.
President Obama has disbanded the President’s Council on Bioethics, a committee appointed in 2001 by President Bush. Although the Council’s charter would have expired in September, members were asked to relinquish their positions and cancel their upcoming final meeting. The White House will appoint a new bioethics commission, the seventh such panel since 1974. The mandate of the new council calls for members to offer practical policy options as well as to debate bioethics issues.
After selecting a site in Illinois for DOE’s flagship carbon capture and storage site, the Bush Administration announced in January 2008 that it would not proceed with the original plan for the carbon capture demonstration program, FutureGen, and instead focus on multiple, smaller commercial-scale demonstration plants. The Obama Administration appears to have reversed that decision by awarding over $1 billion primarily from stimulus funds as a “provisional agreement” to revive the project.
President Obama announced he will merge the staffs of the Homeland Security Council and National Security Council. The combined staff of about 240 will report to National Security Adviser James L. Jones. The White House will also add new offices for cybersecurity, terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and "resilience," which would deal with preparing and responding to a WMD attack, pandemic or natural disaster.
- America COMPETES Act and the FY2010 Budget (R40519)
- Export Controls: Fundamental Reexamination of System Is Needed to Help Protect Critical Technologies. (GAO-09-767T)
- Aviation and Climate Change: Aircraft Emissions Expected to Grow, but Technological and Operational Improvements and Government Policies Can Help Control Emissions. (GAO-09-554)
- Biomonitoring: EPA Needs to Coordinate Its Research Strategy and Clarify Its Authority to Obtain Biomonitoring Data. (GAO-09-353)
Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13951-9)
Electricity from Renewable Resources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13961-8)
Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children: Opportunities in Improve Identification, Treatment, and Prevention (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13936-6)
The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy
Carnegie-IAS Commission on Mathematics and Science Education
Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States
United States Global Climate Change Research Program
- The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda
OECD International Futures Programme
- Structuring U.S. Innovation Policy: Creating a White House Office of Innovation Policy
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- Ethical issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates
Synthetic Biology Project and The Hastings Center
- AAAS sent Sen. Dodd and Rep. Ehlers letters on June 2 supporting their draft of the Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids (SPEAK) Act.
- A group of 32 higher education, scientific, and engineering organizations, including AAAS, urged the federal government to take additional steps to improve the visa process for international students, scholars, and scientists, including creation of a high-level interagency panel to review all of the government’s post-9/11 visa policies and procedures. The statement thanks the Administration for its commitment to the issue their efforts to work with the community to improve the visa process.
- AAAS joined with a coalition of nearly 100 groups to send a letter to the Senate opposing the provision passed by the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to increase the portion of their budgets that federal research agencies must set aside for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, saying that SBIR funding should be increased through total agency funding boosts rather than increasing the amount of the set-aside formula.
Mark Your Calendar:
Science Meeting Global Environmental Challenges - A View from New Zealand
Wednesday, July 15, 2009, Lecture at 5:00 p.m., Reception to follow
AAAS Auditorium 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005
AAAS, the Washington Science Policy Alliance (WSPA), and the Embassy of New Zealand are hosting a lecture by Dr. Helen Anderson, the Chief Executive of New Zealand's Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. Dr. Anderson will explain how the country is thinking about challenges in the areas of energy, climate change, food production and water management. Dr. Anderson will discuss how the history of partnerships provides a base for the two countries to work more closely on global environmental challenges. Please RSVP at www.aaas.org/spp/events.
Special Event to Honor Richard Pierre Claude
23 July 2009, 5:30-7:30pm
AAAS Auditorium, Washington, DC
This event will feature talks to honor Richard Pierre Claude, a scholar, educator, and writer who has dedicated his career to integrating human rights with the practice of public health and the social and physical sciences RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new study suggests that carbon dioxide in ocean waters has unexpected effects on marine organisms. Researchers found that in environments with high carbon dioxide levels, the ear bones of young fish actually grew larger than normal, rather than smaller, as predicted by previous studies. A large amount of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere enters the ocean, causing a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. This study’s finding emphasizes the importance of fully understanding the effects of changing ocean chemistry.
Checkley, David M., et al., “Elevated CO2 Enhances Otolith Growth in Young Fish,” Science, 26 June 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5935, pp. 1683.