OMB Director Nomination Still on Hold. Despite the Administration's lifting the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has not released her hold on Jacob Lew's nomination to be director of the Office of Management and Budget. Although Landrieu originally indicated that the drilling moratorium was the reason for her hold, she has now requested that the Administration also accelerate the permitting process and create an action plan for job creation in the Gulf of Mexico before she will lift the hold.
OSTP Sued Over Delayed Scientific Integrity Guidelines. Last week the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The lawsuit is in response to OSTP's failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by PEER for draft documents submitted by a federal interagency panel to OSTP recommending how agencies should protect scientific integrity in government. In March 2009 the Administration tasked OSTP to create a set of scientific integrity guidelines for the federal government by July 9, 2009, and OSTP's delay in finalizing them has been criticized by some groups.
DOE FutureGen Program Returns. The Department of Energy has formally committed $1 billion in Recovery Act funding to build FutureGen 2.0. The original FutureGen project was announced by President Bush in 2003 as a public-private partnership to build the world's first near-zero-emissions coal-fueled power plant, producing electricity and hydrogen while capturing and storing CO2 underground. DOE pulled funding from the project in 2008, citing significant increases in cost. Under the Obama administration DOE announced the restart of the design in 2009, and in 2010 has revised the plans and rechristened the project FutureGen 2.0 The new commitments are with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance and Ameren Energy Resources. The Alliance, working with the state of Illinois, will develop a permanent CO2 sequestration facility, research and visitor facilities, and a labor training center, along with a CO2 pipeline network connecting to the storage site. There will be a competitive process to select both the host for the CO2 storage site and the vendors to build the pipeline and injection and monitoring wells.
Adaptation Recommendations Released. The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released an interim report containing recommendations that the federal government implement actions to help its agencies better understand, prepare for, and respond to climate change. Key recommendations include making adaptation a standard part of agency planning; ensuring that scientific information about the impacts of climate change is easily accessible; aligning federal efforts to respond to climate impacts that cut across jurisdictions and missions; developing a U.S. strategy to support international adaptation; and building strong partnerships to support local decision makers.
EPA Seeking Public Comments.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on its draft management plan to advance the development of renewable energy on potentially contaminated land and mining sites. The RE-Powering America's Land Initiative aims to determine the feasibility of developing renewable energy production on Superfund, brownfields, and former landfill or mining sites. Comments can be submitted on the RE-Powering website until November 30, 2010.
Administration Request for Domestic Production of Key Isotope Still Pending. An unresolved budget dispute for FY2011 concerns Plutonium-238, used as a power source in space craft. U.S. production ceased in 1988, and sale from Russia has been halted. The Obama administration has requested $30 million to re-start domestic production, with the funds to be split between DOE and NASA. The Senate Appropriations Committee version of the Energy Department's funding bill does not contain funds for the effort, explaining that the financial responsibility should rest entirely with NASA.
AAAS Serves as Founding Partner in USA Science & Engineering Festival. AAAS participated as a founding partner in the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival, providing planning and promotional assistance and hosting two festival activities on October 23-24 in Washington, D.C. The 1,500-plus Festival events and activities included AAAS's "The Science Inside You" booth, focusing on the balance between caloric intake and exercise. AAAS also hosted its popular "Meet the Scientists!" stage show both days, with experts from diverse fields providing fun science presentations and answering questions. President Obama encouraged the public to attend the Science Festival while welcoming students on October 18 to the White House Science Fair.
UVA Fights Subpoena. The University of Virginia is again fighting Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's investigation into former UVA professor Michael Mann (see 10/4/10 Policy Alert). In a legal brief the school calls for the investigation to be set aside, alleging that it is overbroad, rehashes arguments already rejected by the court, and infringes on academic freedom.
Evolution-Related Lawsuit Against UC Ends. The Supreme Court has declined to review a lawsuit initiated by a Christian school group against the University of California System, thus bringing the case to a close. The plaintiffs argued that UC violated student rights by rejecting certain high school-level courses that did not meet university academic standards, but district and appeals courts ruled against them. Creationist textbooks featured prominently in the case.
Court Ruling Limits Teacher Free-Speech Rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has ruled that "only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom." The decision comes after the contract of an Ohio teacher was not renewed following community concerns about readings she assigned to high school English classes. The Court of Appeals relied on a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, Garcetti v. Ceballos, that public employees do not have First Amendment protection for speech "pursuant to" their official duties.
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Chinese Limits on Rare Earth Exports Under Scrutiny. China is planning new restrictions on the export of rare earth materials used in many clean-energy and defense technologies. The China Daily reported that China will "further reduce quotas for rare earth exports by 30 percent at most next year to protect the precious metals from over-exploitation." In addition, the New York Times reported that China, which has been blocking shipments of the minerals to Japan for a month, has now halted some shipments to the United States and Europe. The U.S. Trade Representative has already launched a broad probe of China's green technology trade practices, including rare earth materials. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the Pentagon, the Departments of Commerce and Energy, and the United States Trade Representative, asking about the effect of the recent Chinese actions on U.S. policy. As reported in the 10/4/10 Policy Alert, the House has passed legislation (H.R. 6160) to increase research into these materials, and a similar bill (S. 3521) has been introduced in the Senate.
UK Science Funding Largely Spared in Budget Cuts. The British government announced last week that although most government departments will face an average cut of 25% over the next four years, core research funding for Britain's universities will be frozen at £4.6 billion over that same period. By the time the freeze is lifted, research funding in 2015 will be 10% lower than current levels when inflation is taken into account. A £500 million financing package for education and science parks from the European Investment Bank, also announced last week, will help to lessen the impact of the government's funding freeze. The separate £1.4 billion budget for large scientific facilities will not be frozen and will likely face cuts of about 50%, but some projects, such as the planned UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI), were specifically excluded from budget cuts. The news, however, was not as good for university teaching support, which faces cuts of 40%, from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion.
Canada Declares BPA Toxic. The government of Canada has formally declared bisphenol A (BPA), a compound widely found in plastic food containers and aluminum can linings, to be a toxin. The move eases the way for Canadian regulation of BPA. Canada's action differs from the European approach; last month the European Food Safety Authority said it did not have data to indicate toxicity that would point to the need for a policy change. Several U.S. states have banned BPA in children's products, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is pushing for a ban at the federal level. U.S. regulatory agencies are in the process of conducting more studies before taking action.
Canadian Report on Research Integrity Released. On October 21 a panel of experts convened by the Council of Canadian Academies, a non-profit entity that assesses public policy issues related to Canada, issued a 118-page report on Honesty, Accountability and Trust: Fostering Research Integrity in Canada. Among its major recommendations is the call for establishment of a new body, independent of the government, called the Canadian Council for Research Integrity, to "offer confidential advice on research integrity, ...and promote best practices and standards." The report also recommended that researchers found to have committed misconduct should be identified publicly. The study was undertaken at the request of Canada's Minister of Industry.UNESCO Puts Obiang Prize on Hold.
The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences
has been put on hold indefinitely after an international outcry
forced UNESCO to reconsider the wisdom of having a major science prize named after the notorious dictator of Equatorial Guinea. UNESCO's executive board has agreed to suspend the prize
until a consensus alternative is reached. African and Arab countries wanted to press ahead, while the United States and some European countries vehemently opposed the name on the grounds of Obiang's dubious human rights record.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.