After a slow start for Congressional action on appropriation bills this year, the process has begun to accelerate. The House Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee marked up its $44 billion bill last week, and five more House appropriations subcommittee markups are scheduled this week, before the July 4 recess.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced late last week that House leaders plan to bring what amounts to their FY 2011 budget resolution to the floor this week (although they seem to be at pains not to use that term). The "spending plan" would set FY 2011 discretionary spending at $1.12 trillion, $7 billion less than the President's request; reaffirm commitment to a revenue-neutral pay-as-you-go principle; and announce the House's intention to vote on Senate-passed recommendations from the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The measure may be attached to the FY 2010 supplemental defense appropriations bill, H.R. 4899, although the latter bill has stalled amid concerns that the spending is not completely offset. One strategy under consideration for passage of the supplemental appropriations bill would be to hold separate votes on the war funding and other spending in the bill.
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Other Congressional News
Members of Congress Concerned about Oil Spill Panel. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), Ranking Member of the House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, sent a letter to President Obama, questioning the makeup of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Broun requested that additional members with broad technical expertise be added to the panel and noted his concern that the panel "will serve little purpose other than rubberstamping your Administration's predetermined policy goals without fully investigating the facts and circumstances concerning the root causes of the incident." Concerns about the lack of relevant expertise on the panel were also raised by Republicans at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. Broun sent another letter to John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), questioning how the Administration will manage BP's $500 million Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, questions also raised in an LA Times article.
Stem Cell News. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins accepted the recommendations of his advisory committee and rejected 47 human embryonic stem cell lines, all from Chicago's Reproductive Genetics Institute, for eligibility for federally funded experiments. The consent forms used with the lines had broad language that appeared to prohibit donors from suing the clinic, no matter what the circumstances. Collins did approve eight other lines, bringing the total to 75 lines on NIH's Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry. In other news, a U.S. appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit challenging President Obama's stem cell policy. A federal district court had previously rejected the lawsuit, which is backed by some Christian groups that oppose embryonic stem cell research, saying that challengers had no legal standing to file it. The appeals court disagreed with that conclusion but did not rule on the merits of the case itself.
Judge's Ruling Faults Interior Department Decision for Inadequate Scientific Evidence. The recent ruling by a federal judge to overturn the Interior Department's moratorium on deepwater oil drilling is noteworthy for its emphasis on the absence of scientific and engineering evidence to support the agency's decision. The judge was critical of the lack of "any analysis of the asserted fear of threat of irreparable injury or safety hazards posed by the thirty-three permitted rigs also reached by the moratorium." He found that the government had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in issuing the temporary ban, noting that he was "unable to...fathom a relationship between the findings [of the Department's report] and the immense scope of the moratorium."
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Call For Gulf Oil Spill Proposals. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a special announcement calling for proposals for research projects related to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and its consequences, using NSF's Rapid Response Research (RAPID) mechanism. Proposals must be submitted by September 30, 2010.
FDA Nearing Decision on Genetically-Engineered Salmon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering an application from a firm called AquaBounty Technologies to approve for human consumption a genetically-modified fish. The fish, an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon, can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months, rather than three years. Reportedly it will not end up larger than unmodified salmon. It would be raised on inland fish farms rather than in ocean pens to prevent its escape into the ocean. An FDA advisory committee will most likely hold a public meeting on the matter before making a decision.
Clinical Trials for Many Approved Drugs Conducted Abroad. The Health and Human Services Inspector General has issued a report saying that 80% of the drugs approved for sale in 2008 had been studied in clinical trials conducted in foreign countries. The report said that foreign trials can benefit sponsors with lower costs and access to larger populations but that they engender concerns about monitoring the rights and welfare of subjects as well as about data integrity.
NSF Seeks Feedback on New Website. The National Science Foundation released the beta version of a new Research.gov, a website designed to provide information by state, congressional district, and science field on research sponsored by NSF and certain other federal agencies. The website is designed to promote transparency and highlight outcomes and impacts of agency-funded grants. Currently, NASA, the Army Research Office, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture are also providing selected services on the website.
People in the News. - The Senate confirmed Patricia Hoffman as assistant secretary of energy for electricity delivery and energy reliability at DOE, and Cheryl LaFleur and Philip Moeller as commissioners of DOE's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. - Richard Lazarus
, a Georgetown University environmental law professor, was named executive director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
National Academies to Study Future of Research Universities. The National Research Council has announced it will create a panel of business and higher-education leaders to identify, at the request of Congress, "the top 10 actions that Congress, the federal government, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education." The panel will be chaired by former du Pont CEO Charles O. Holliday, Jr. Members include AAAS board chairman Peter Agre, AAAS board member Cherry Murray, and former AAAS president Walter Massey.
Judge Throws Out Creationist Master's Degree Case. A federal judge has tossed out the Texas-based Institute for Creation Research's lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board over the board's 2008 decision to disallow the institute from offering a master's degree in science education.
Supreme Court Makes First Ruling on GE Crops. The Supreme Court ruled last week against a ban on planting alfalfa seeds genetically engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, reversing a lower court's decision. A federal district judge had initially ruled that the Agriculture Department approved the commercial planting of the "Roundup Ready" crops without considering the environmental impact as required by law.
Europe to Import Solar-Generated Electricity. The European Energy Commissioner announced on June 20 that Europe will import its first solar-generated electricity from North Africa within the next five years. This announcement is part of an effort to generate 20% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020. While small pilot projects will also play a role in reaching this goal, the 400 billion euro Desertec project will provide thousands of megawatts of solar and wind power once completed over the next 20 to 40 years.
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NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to email@example.com.