Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
Though not with the broad bipartisan support of the original America COMPETES Act, the reauthorization of America COMPETES passed the House Science and Technology Committee by a 29-8 vote after an all-day markup session on April 28. The legislation, H.R. 5116, authorizes science and education programs for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science and puts these agencies' budgets on a path to double over 10 years, starting with 2007 appropriated levels.
A constant refrain at the individual subcommittee markups of the bill was concern about authorizing large increases for agencies during a time of high budget deficits. In a Manager's Amendment, House Science and Technology Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) attempted to address these concerns by reducing all authorization levels just over 10 percent relative to levels passed by the subcommittees.
As amended, the legislation would authorize $7.48 billion for the NSF in FY 2011, $56.6 million over the FY 2011 Budget Request. Authorization levels rise to $10.16 billion in FY 2015. The bill authorizes $991 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology for FY 2011, rising to $1. 2 billion in FY 2015. DOE's Office of Science is authorized for $5.2 billion for FY 2011, increasing annually to $6.9 billion in 2015.
Key provisions for NSF include a requirement for the agency to set aside 5 percent of its Research and Related Activities funding for "high-risk, high-reward research." The legislation would also create an "Innovation Inducement Prize" program with a total of $12 million for five prizes. In the area of education, the bill would change the current cost-sharing ratio for the Robert Noyce Scholarship program from 50:50 to 70:30 (federal government vs. institution). An amendment introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) would halt the Administration's plans to consolidate Broadening Participation programs until the NSF director has developed and presented a plan and rationale for the programs' consolidation. (See April STC newsletter). Another passed amendment offered by Rep. Johnson would establish workshops to help eliminate gender disparities in all federal science agencies and at undergraduate universities. Also, the amendment would extend funding to researchers who take an extended leave of absence for caregiving responsibilities.
For DOE, the legislation contains a comprehensive five-year reauthorization of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, a reauthorization of ARPA-E, and an authorization of Energy Innovation Hubs. (see April STC newsletter)
The legislation would elevate the Director of NIST to Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology. Although the new title will provide NIST management with greater access to the Secretary of Commerce, no new responsibilities will come with the title change.
The ten NIST laboratories would be consolidated into six laboratories in order to meet the needs of the current high-tech sector, a plan endorsed by NIST leadership. With Congressional approval, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology will be able to realign labs in order to meet new needs of the future high-tech industry.
Additionally, the bill would change the cost-share ratio of the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) from 30:70 (federal government vs. second party) to 50:50. The MEP, which is partially funded by state governments, universities, or non-profit organizations, helps increase the competitiveness and technological expertise of small and mid-size manufacturers.
Furthermore, the COMPETES Act reauthorization would require NIST to give "consideration to the goal of promoting the participation of underrepresented minorities in research areas supported by the Institute" when evaluating fellowships and post-doctoral applicants. Minority serving institutions would also receive "special consideration" as NIST designates University Research Centers to support the Bioscience Research Program.
The legislation also calls for guidance across agencies on key topics. The bill directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to work with agencies to develop a consistent policy regarding the management of scientific collections and establishes a working group to coordinate federal science agency policies related to the dissemination of the results of federally-supported research. In addition, the bill calls for coordination of federal STEM education activities and the creation of an advisory committee on STEM education. It also establishes an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Department of Commerce and establishes the creation of regional innovation clusters.
Speaker Pelosi has said the legislation could be considered on the House floor the week of May 10, consistent with Chairman Gordon's goal of a vote before the full House before the Memorial Day recess.
-- Kasey White, Phillip Chalker, and Joanne Carney
The President on April 15 gave a speech fleshing out the four-page plan for NASA he outlined in his February budget request.
The budget plan called for NASA to scrap the Constellation program, which is focused on developing a replacement for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet and sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would instead rely on private contractors for the development of new space flight technologies. (See April STC newsletter)
At the speech, which took place at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, Obama offered his vision for dates and destinations: nearby asteroids after 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s. He defended his plan to turn to private industry for new spaceflight innovations, saying "we've got to do [human spaceflight] in a smart way."
He offered a concession by promising to retain one element of the Constellation program: the Orion crew capsule. It would be scaled down, however, and used as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station rather than a capsule to take astronauts into space. He also said NASA would begin development on a heavy-lift rocket by 2015.
Furthermore, Obama pledged $40 million to retrain Florida space workers who stand to lose their jobs after the grounding of the space shuttle next year. He also said that NASA will produce 2,500 more jobs there by 2012 than the Constellation program would have created through work on the Orion, investment in new commercial rockets, and planned upgrades to the Kennedy facility.
The speech appears to have done little to tamp down the bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill. In a hearing of Senate appropriators the following week, NASA Administrator Bolden was hammered with questions and criticism of the plan, though mainly from Senators whose states stand to lose from the cancellation of Constellation.
Garnering less attention—but no less important to the scientific community—is the fact that NASA is proposing a 62 percent ($2.4 billion) increase to its earth science budget through 2015. The budget would provide for up to ten new missions including measurements of ocean temperature, the size of polar ice caps, and carbon dioxide emissions. It would also include repairs to some of the 13 aging climate satellites, construction of five new ones, and a five-year extension of the International Space Station's lifespan in order to monitor ozone. The current ISS termination date is 2015.
-- Erin Heath
Thirty-five years after it was initially enacted, Congress has begun to move on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs the EPA's ability to regulate the use of harmful compounds. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has released legislation that would give the EPA greatly enhanced capabilities to collect information and regulate compounds believed to be dangerous. Likewise, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) have introduced a similar discussion draft in the House.
Lautenberg's proposed overhaul seeks to fix key problems with TSCA that were identified in a 2009 GAO review. Under the current law, the EPA must demonstrate that there may be an unreasonable risk before mandating testing of a given compound. These difficulties in accessing information, combined with the high burden of proof that TSCA requires in order to ban a chemical, renders regulatory action extraordinarily difficult. Problems remain with the system for introducing new chemicals, too. There is no requirement to submit hazard data for a new compound, and the publication of information collected is hampered by extensive confidentiality claims. These concerns led the EPA to issue a set of Essential Principles for Reform of Chemicals Management Legislation, and spurred on a series of congressional hearings on TSCA reform.
The new legislation seeks to address these problems by improving the EPA's ability to collect data and take decisive action. Whereas now the EPA must prove that a compound presents an "unreasonable risk" in order to implement a ban, Lautenberg's proposal would implement a model where companies must demonstrate a "reasonable certainty of no harm" prior to introduction of a new compound. In order to accomplish this goal, companies would be required to submit a data set containing hazard, use, and exposure information in order to introduce a new chemical into the market. The bill would attempt to ensure the accessibility of this information by requiring the EPA to review Confidential Business Information claims and allowing state governments to access confidential data. Furthermore, the EPA would be given strong authority to mandate testing of existing compounds. Resources would be focused on compounds prioritized as high risk based on their use, toxicity, and other characteristics.
One catalyst for TSCA reform has been a shift in attitudes among key industry players; recently, leading businesses and industry groups have acknowledged that comprehensive TSCA reform is desirable.With increased public perception of the risks to human health posed by chemicals in consumer products, a credible regulatory authority is needed to improve consumer confidence. Furthermore, the industry hopes to head off major anti-chemical backlash that would result in what they view as obtrusive regulations reminiscent of those implemented under the EU's REACH program. Consensus on such a plan does not exist yet. While groups like the American Chemistry Council agree with elements of Lautenberg's plan, they remain wary of some of its provisions. In particular, the stringent "reasonable certainty of no harm" standard and the lack of provisions to preempt the implementation of stricter rules at the state level are likely to be sticking points.
-- Jon McMurry
In late March, Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and George Voinovich (R-OH) introduced a discussion draft of legislation that would provide extensive incentives for the development and deployment of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology. Capturing CO2 from coal combustion and then storing it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while allowing continued use of fossil fuels for energy production, but the technology is not yet available on the needed scale.
Research and development (R&D) work would be spurred on by the authorization of $850 million over 15 years for DOE-private sector partnerships. In order to stimulate the implementation of this technology at the commercial scale, the bill calls for a "Pioneer" program to subsidize the construction of CCS facilities, with a focus on commercial scale facilities. Tax credits starting at $67 per ton of carbon sequestered would promote the use of CCS further into the future. Finally, the law would mandate the adoption of specific technology standards after the first 10 GW of capacity is built, or in 2030. Funding for these programs would come from a tax levied on electrical power generation tailored to raise approximately $2 billion dollars per year.
While Rockefeller and Voinovich have indicated their intent to take on the thorny issue of liability in the final legislation, the version released doesn't contain any details. Liability concerns are a major issue in the CCS field, both with respect to the leakage of injected CO2 and potential trespassing claims if sequestered CO2 seeps into adjacent properties. Without clear guidelines, corporations will have great difficulty assessing the risks of engaging in CCS projects.
Rockefeller's bill is the most comprehensive legislation being considered, but CCS issues have captured the interest of other Senators, too. The increased recognition that legal issues are central to the viability of carbon capture and storage has led Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) to push for legislation to clarify a limited but still important issue, ownership of pore space on federal lands. Taking a different tack, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) has introduced a bill that would expand the DOE National Energy Technology Lab's carbon capture and storage R&D programs, with an emphasis on producing a commercial scale demonstration.
In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on April 20, numerous electrical industry representatives and CCS entrepreneurs expressed hearty support for the Rockefeller-Voinovich proposal. Ben Yamagata of the Coal Utilization Research Council captured the mood when he stated, "This proposal in its entirety is the most comprehensive and far reaching initiative yet proposed to address the variety of issues related to the successful wide-spread introduction of CCS technology." While there were minor quibbles over stringent restrictions on the type of facilities eligible to receive funding, the principle concern expressed was that support for CCS will have a minimal impact in the absence of a price on carbon emissions.
The Obama Administration is examining these issues too. On February 3, the Administration announced the formation of an interagency task force dedicated to tackling the challenge of implementing large-scale CCS within 10 years, with a short-term goal to have 5-10 commercial demonstration projects running by 2016.
-- Jon McMurry
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
Committees in both the House and Senate are reviewing the Federal Research Public Access Act (H.R. 5037 and S. 1373). The bill would require agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide online access to research manuscripts stemming from federal funding within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The bill gives individual agencies flexibility in choosing the location of the digital repository for this content, as long as the repositories meet conditions for interoperability and public accessibility and have provisions for long-term archiving.
On April 15 the House Committee on Homeland Security reported out favorably H.R. 4842, a bill to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. The bill would increase authorized directorate funding to $1.12 billion in 2011 and $1.16 billion in 2012, while also mandating administrative measures intended to make the Department more effective and transparent. The bipartisan legislation was approved by the committee on a 26-0 vote and now awaits a floor vote in the House.
The Senate Budget Committee approved its budget resolution for FY 2011 on April 22. It provides $4 billion dollars less than the President’s overall proposed budget, with most cuts coming from international programs. House Democrats continue to negotiate within their ranks to try to reach a compromise for their budget resolution. The moderate-conservative Blue Dog Democrats want to cut non-security discretionary spending by 2 percent each year for the next three years and then freeze those funding levels for an additional two years but that plan has met resistance from the Congressional Progressive and Black Caucuses over concerns that it would result in cuts to social programs.
President Obama has signed a bill (S.3253) that extends the authorization for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs through July 31. Congress has been unable to advance comprehensive authorizations for these programs (See June 2009 STC newsletter).
On Earth Day, April 22, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing on the economic and environmental effects of ocean acidification, which occurs when CO2 dissolves into sea water, causing it to become more acidic. The majority of witnesses agreed that ocean acidification will greatly impact the ocean environment and could cause species extinction and collapse food chains. Witnesses from industry stated that damage to coral and shelled organisms will harm both the fishing and diving industry. That same day, the National Research Council released a report detailing needed ocean acidification research.
On April 28, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to address the rising problem of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Members expressed particular interest in the role that antibiotic use in livestock feed might play in transmitting drug-resistant pathogens to humans and in potential strategies to spur on private investment in antibiotic development.
On April 28, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing to discuss the Administration's FY 2011 NIH budget request. Members were generally supportive of the proposed $1 billion budget increase. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) asked NIH Director Collins if the $10.4 billion NIH received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had been a positive thing, given that the agency is now reaching the end of the two-year stimulus funds. Despite the "stresses" NIH faces in FY 2011, Collins responded, "it was worth every bit of it."
White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra has announced the creation of a new subcommittee within the National Science and Technology Council: the interagency Subcommittee on Standards, designed to help "ensure that federal agencies work closely and effectively together to define their standards needs, define their approach to working with industry and standards organizations, and support their meaningful adoption by markets."
The White House has announced the remaining 10 members of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The group includes several scholars and doctors as well as a Franciscan friar and a biomedical research advocate.
The Food and Drug Administration has put out draft guidelines aimed at enhancing transparency in its advisory committees. Members of FDA advisory committees can seek conflict-of-interest waivers; they must disclose to the agency if they work with a sponsor or competitor of a drug or device under FDA review. Under the new guidelines, they would have to go further, revealing publicly the names of the relevant companies and how much money is involved.
On April 23 the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on standardized Research Performance Progress Reports for federal grantees, to be universally applied across federal agencies so that "researchers spend less time managing paperwork and forms" and more time on research. Details of the new standards are posted on the NSF web site, and federal agencies have nine months to post implementation plans.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is formally listing Bisphenol A – a chemical used widely in consumer goods – as a "chemical of concern" and will require additional research on it. EPA joins the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in studying BPA. FDA announced in January that it had concerns about the potential human health impacts of BPA and it would study the potential effects and ways to reduce exposure to BPA in food packaging. The listing does not trigger new regulations, but EPA officials said they would consider possible regulatory actions to address health impacts, if necessary.
The Obama Administration finalized rules that impose the first greenhouse gas emissions regulations for vehicles. Crafted jointly by EPA and the Transportation Department, the rules require automakers to have an average fleetwide fuel economy of 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016 – four years earlier than mandated by the 2007 law – and to meet certain greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
On April 7 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released an update on its Open Government initiatives. The document outlines activities that OSTP is undertaking to support the Open Government goals of transparency, participation, and collaboration. In related news, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched the Health and Environmental Research On-line (HERO) database that provides access to more than 300,000 citations of scientific studies used by EPA in making key regulatory decisions.
On April 28, the federal government approved the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The Cape Wind project, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, will be comprised of 130 windmills in Nantucket Sound and will begin producing energy by the end of 2012. Average expected production will be roughly 170 megawatts, or almost 75 percent of the demand for Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The decade-long debate over the project may not yet be over, as opponents have already announced their intention to challenge the decision in court.
Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer (RL34511)
Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15359-1)
Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15328-7)
Review of the Department of Defense Enhanced Particulate Matter Surveillance Program Report (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15413-0)
Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15344-7)
Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15324-9)
Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15293-8)
Gulf War and Health: Volume 8: Update of Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14921-1)
Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering: Summary of a Workshop (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15118-4)
Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14982-2)
Lost in Translation: Closing the Gap Between Climate Science and National Security Policy
Center for a New American Security
Climate Change Indicators in the United States
Environmental Protection Agency
The Atlas of Global Conservation
The Nature Conservancy
Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model
Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars
AAAS Adopts Statement on Human Rights and Scientific Progress. On April 16 the AAAS Board of Directors adopted a statement on the human right to the benefits of scientific progress. The Statement notes that an "international process is currently underway... [for] defining ... the meaning of the right and ... determining how best to implement the right in practice." Acknowledging that "this right lies at the heart of the AAAS mission and the social responsibilities of scientists," the Board endorses the efforts of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program to engage scientists and scientific associations so that their "voice, interests and concerns" can be brought to bear on conceptualizing and promoting this right.
AAAS Lends Support to Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act
On April 26, AAAS CEO Dr. Alan Leshner sent House Science and Technology Committee leadership a letter supporting the principles in the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, calling it "vital legislation that recognizes the importance of innovation and research in sustaining a strong American economy."
Tiny Particles with Big Consequences: Black Carbon, Climate, and Air Quality
In addition to the polluting effects of black carbon and other airborne particles, there is a growing awareness that these short-lived pollutants play a significant role in global climate change. On April 29, AAAS co-sponsored a well-attended congressional briefing that examined short-lived pollutants, such as black carbon, their impacts on climate and human health, and implications for federal policy.
Science, Preparation, and Resilience: What we can learn from the Haitian Earthquake of 2010
On May 6, AAAS co-sponsored a briefing that featured leading scientists discussing earthquake research and prediction in Haiti and the Caribbean, potential future seismic activity, risk mitigation, and the prospect of early warning systems.
AAAS Releases Biosecurity Report
AAAS, the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) released a report on how to minimize biosecurity and biosafety risks in academic laboratories, including high-containment labs, while promoting education and research. The report, Competing Responsibilities?: Addressing the Security Risks of Biological Research in Academia, is the result of a two-day meeting convened earlier this year by AAAS.
Mark your Calendar:
Climate Science: Key Questions and Answers
On May 11, AAAS will co-sponsor a briefing that will examine which climate change science results are well understood and where key uncertainties exist, including issues recently covered in the media such as climate impacts on glaciers and recent temperature trends. Discussion with the distinguished panelists will include examination of the peer-review process, data sources, research processes, statistical analysis, and how various bodies like the IPCC conduct their studies and assessments. RSVP online.
Whistleblowers and OSHA: Strengthening Professional Integrity
This event, which features Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, will be held from 12:30 to 2:00 pm on May 11 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1200 New York Avenue, NW). Light refreshments will be available at 11:45 am. RSVP online.
AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
The 35th annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy will be held on May 13-14 at the International Trade Center in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C. Keynote speakers include John P. Holdren and Linda Katehi and topical sessions will focus on the Societal Impacts of Science and Technology, Climate Change, Strengthening the U.S. Climate for Innovation, and National Security and the Roles for Science and Technology.
After studying tree rings throughout Asia, scientists created the Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas, which details a 700 year-long record of the Asian monsoon, a weather system that affects over half of the Earth's population. Researchers hope the Atlas will shed light on how the monsoon has changed and how it will change in the future.
Wahl, Eugene R. and Carrie Morrill., "Toward Understanding and Predicting Monsoon Patterns" Science 23 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5977, pp. 437 - 438.