As Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, the House Appropriations Committee has not yet rescheduled its markup of the supplemental defense appropriations bill, H.R. 4899. The Senate passed its version of the bill before the recess, but the Senate bill does not contain several provisions in the House version: for example, $24.7 billion for jobs programs, of which $23 billion is aid to local school districts to avoid teacher layoffs; $5.7 billion in Pell Grant funding; and $677 million for border security.
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Other Congressional News
Senate Committee Vote on OSTP Nomination. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to vote June 9 on the nomination of Carl Wieman to be the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Senate to Consider Overturning EPA's Endangerment Finding. The Senate plans to vote June 10 on a measure that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Resolution of Disapproval, a rarely used procedure that only requires 51 votes to pass, is sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and has 41 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. It would nullify EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, thereby striking EPA's authority to regulate GHG emissions. Although the resolution is unlikely to become law, the vote is seen as a bellwether on climate change legislation.
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Lugar Introduces Climate Bill. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Minority Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation on June 7 that aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions through increased automotive fuel efficiency, renewable fuels for cars, energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings, and nuclear power. First-Responders' Communication Technology Still Lags.
Police, firefighters, and other first responders are still hampered in their ability to communicate across jurisdictional lines using radio equipment from various manufacturers, a National Institute of Standards and Technology program manager told the House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Dereck Orr told the panel that Project 25, a 21-year-old effort to develop standards for public safety communication systems, still lacks completed documentation for six of the eight interoperability standards for land mobile radios. According to a report in Federal Computer Week
, the lack of completed standards has not stopped deployment of Project 25 technology -- 70 % of the U.S. population is covered by networks using it. But tests found that equipment advertised by one manufacturer as P-25 compliant often was unable to communicate with equipment made by other companies.
Oil Spill Commission Members Named. The National Commission on the BP oil spill has announced that its co-chairs will be former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA chief William Reilly. Two additional panelists have been named, both with academic ties: Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science, and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, currently chancellor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Administration Launches Program to Measure Impact of R&D. On June 1 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new multi-agency initiative for measuring the impact of federal research and development (R&D) investments on jobs and the economy. The initiative, "Science and Technology for America's Reinvestment: Measuring the Effect of Research on Innovation, Competitiveness and Science" (STAR-METRICS), will be managed in two phases. The first phase will calculate employment generated from stimulus funds using university records, and the second phase will measure economic growth, workforce outcomes, scientific knowledge, and social outcomes, using a broader set of records. In the future, OSTP would like to see system cover the full range of federal R&D funding, not just the stimulus money. NIH and NSF are contributing a total of $1 million for the initiative's first year.
New NSF Survey Reports U.S. Firms Spent $330 Billion on R&D in 2008. NSF has released preliminary results of its first Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDIS), developed in collaboration with the Census Bureau. Unlike previous NSF surveys of industrial R&D, BRDIS includes separate data on domestic and foreign operations. The survey covered companies located in the U.S., both U.S.-owned and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that have R&D activities. These firms performed $330 billion in worldwide R&D, of which $292 billion (88%) was for company-performed R&D. Of that, $234 billion was performed in the U.S. and $58 billion at facilities outside the U.S. The sector that performed the largest amount of R&D outside the U.S. was pharmaceuticals and medicines.
EPA Issues a New Standard for Sulfur Dioxide Emissions. On June 3 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new final health standard for sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources. The new rule moves from a 24-hour standard to an hourly standard of 75 parts per billion. The agency hopes that the new standard, adopted under the Clean Air Act and the first such revision in nearly 40 years, will prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year. EPA is also requiring that new monitors be set up by 2013 in populated areas that are subject to the highest concentrations of SO2. USPTO Proposes New Tracks. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is seeking public comment on a proposed "Three-Track" examination initiative that aims to provide applicants greater control over the speed with which their applications are examined. An applicant may request: prioritized examination, traditional examination under the current procedures, or controlled delay for up to 30 months prior to docketing for examination. A public meeting will be held on July 20. Written comments must be submitted by August 20, 2010. Additional details on the program are in the Federal Register.
Animal Research News. A Wisconsin County Circuit Court judge has appointed a special prosecutor to determine whether nine scientists have violated a state law that prohibits killing animals by decompression, a technique formerly used in euthanasia. The scientists have been conducting decompression sickness research for the Office of Naval Research utilizing sheep, but believed that the state law exempted scientific research. If found guilty, the scientists could be criminally charged and fined or sentenced to jail. Meanwhile, the research has been suspended. Elsewhere, the National Academies last week released an updated Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. The guide, last published in 1996, now has a definition of animal biosecurity and also includes a new section on creating an emergency plan in the event of a catastrophic incident.
Researcher Barred from Lab for Unauthorized Experiments. The University of Wisconsin has suspended a researcher's laboratory privileges for five years because of unauthorized experiments involving the infectious disease brucellosis, a disease typically passed on to humans by farm animals. The university found that the researcher had violated provisions of federal laws governing work with biological agents that can be lethal to humans. The violations were discovered in an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also fined the university $40,000 for its failure to exercise proper oversight.
Judge Rules fMRI Inadmissible as Lie-Detection Evidence. A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) should not be permitted into the courtroom as evidence, stating that the technology is unreliable and has not been accepted by the scientific community. Nevertheless, the judge did state that "should fMRI-based lie detection undergo further testing, development, and peer review, improve upon standards controlling the technique's operation, and gain acceptance by the scientific community for use in the real world, this methodology may be found to be admissible…."
Foreign Ph.D.s in Science and Engineering Stay in the U.S. According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Department's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for the National Science Foundation, 62% of foreigners holding temporary visas who earned Ph.D.s in science and engineering at U.S. universities in 2002 were still in the U.S. in 2007, and of those who graduated in 1997, 60% were still in the U.S. in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available.
First Large-Scale Desalination Plant Opened in UK. With growing concerns over water stress in London and its surrounding areas, the first large-scale desalination plant on the UK mainland opened on June 2. The plant will turn seawater into drinking water for homes and businesses and will use renewable biofuels such as cooking oil and waste fat in order to reduce its impact on the environment. Thames Water, the water and wastewater services company that owns the plant, has said that the facility will be used only "during times of drought" and will be capable of supplying water for "up to one million people."
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