Emission Reductions Ordered for Trucks and Buses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are seeking public comment on the first national standards to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and buses. The new regulations are projected to reduce GHG emissions by about 250 million metric tons over the lives of the vehicles produced within the program’s first five years.
Justice Department Says Genes Not Eligible for Patents. On October 27, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief that stated that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents. The brief, linked to a March 2010 case involving two human genes, is contrary to the longstanding practice of the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as NIH and other government agencies. It remains to be seen if the Patent Office will integrate the position in the legal brief into its policy.
Arctic Climate Change Expected to Continue. NOAA has issued its 2010 Arctic Report Card. The report found "it is clear that the Arctic is experiencing the impacts of a prolonged and amplified warming trend." It notes further that it is "increasingly unlikely … that the Arctic will return to conditions that were considered normal in the later part of the 20th century."
National Nanotechnology Initiative Seeks Comments on Strategic Plan. The interagency National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is seeking public comments on its revised NNI Strategic Plan through November 30, 2010. Over the summer an interagency subcommittee collected comments on the previous strategic plan, as well as inputs to a series of "challenge questions." The revised NNI Strategic Plan reflects a consensus of the 25 participating federal agencies.
Holdren Addresses Near Earth Objects. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has written to the leaders of the House and Senate committees that oversee NASA recommending a government response policy on the potential impact of a near-Earth object (or NEO -- e.g., an asteroid). The letter fulfilled a mandate set forward in the NASA Authorization Act of 2008. A NASA advisory panel recently recommended that the agency establish a Planetary Defense Coordination Office to address NEOs.
New Renewable Energy Projects Approved for Public Lands. The Department of the Interior has recently approved the first renewable energy projects on public lands in California and Nevada. The most recent, and the largest solar energy project on public lands, will cover over 7,000 acres of land near Blythe, California and will produce up to 1,000 megawatts.
People in the News. Kathy Hudson, chief of staff to NIH Director Francis Collins, has been appointed to the newly-created position of NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy.
Geoengineering In the News. The Government Accountability Office issued a report that calls for an entity such as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish a strategy for geoengineering research in the context of the federal response to climate change. GAO's analysis found agencies spent $1.9 million on research directly related to geoengineering over the past two years. Meanwhile, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D‑TN) released a report, Engineering the Climate: Research Needs and Strategies for International Collaboration, that was prepared in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s House of Commons S&T Committee. The report identifies U.S. federal geoengineering research capabilities and calls for additional international research and engagement on geoengineering. In releasing the report, Chairman Gordon reiterated his position that he was "not in favor of deploying climate engineering" but wants to build the research and governance foundation. Meanwhile, delegates at the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to call for a moratorium on geoengineering schemes "that may affect biodiversity".
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Grassley Continues Focus on Research Ethics. Though he will soon be term-limited out of his top post on the Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has not slowed down his conflict-of-interest watchdog activities. He recently sent several letters to federal officials on this topic, including the issue of doctors who receive payments from industry. He also questioned the National Institutes of Health on the discipline and transfer to a new position of an institute ethics director.
New Agreement on Biodiversity Protection. Delegates at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, agreed to halt the loss of biodiversity by protecting at least 17% of the world's terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas. They also adopted agreements to generate financing to support these efforts and to share the proceeds of the commercialization of genetic materials with the countries of origin, breaking a nearly 20-year impasse over the issue of sharing the benefits of medicines developed from plants or animals.
Graduate Student Unions at Private Institutions Granted a Hearing. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that NYU graduate students seeking to organize a collective bargaining unit deserve a hearing on the merits of their case and that there may be compelling reasons to reverse a previous decision involving Brown University graduate students. The ruling sends the case back to a NLRB Regional Board for a full hearing and new decision. In the Brown case, the board found that graduate students are primarily students, not employees, and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining protections. The case applies only to graduate students at private institutions as most states have their own rules for public institutions.
EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard Released. The 2010 edition of the "EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard" was released by the European Commission last week. The scoreboard shows that R&D investment by top EU companies fell by only 2.6% in 2009, while sales and profits posted double digit percentage declines of 10.1% and 21.0% respectively. R&D investment by top US companies fell by almost twice as much, 5.1%. Worldwide, flat or growing R&D investment by Asian countries resulted in a worldwide R&D investment reduction of only 1.9%.
Fastest Supercomputer Announced. China unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, named Tianhe-1A ("Milky Way"), last week. The supercomputer cost over $88 million to build and has a peak speed of 2.507 petaflops and a sustained speed of 563.1 teraflops -- 1.4 times faster than the previous record holder, a supercomputer housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
India To Build Neutrino Observatory. India’s environment and forests ministry has approved the building of a $270 million neutrino observatory. Only the fifth such observatory in the world, the observatory will feature a 50-kiloton electromagnet to detect neutrinos emanating from the cosmos.
China Ends Rare-Earth Minerals Export Embargo. Shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that she would push for clarification of China’s apparent halt in the exportation of rare-earth minerals, the Chinese resumed shipping the materials to Japan, Europe and the United States. Despite the fact that shipments have resumed, the U.S. remains concerned over the long-term outlook for access to rare-earth minerals and Secretary Clinton is expected to engage in a dialogue with China over the recent restrictions.
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