An omnibus appropriations bill was pulled from the Senate floor last Thursday night after Republican support for the bill evaporated. The third Continuing Resolution (CR, H.J.Res.105) of the FY 2011 appropriations cycle was quickly pushed through Congress on Friday to extend funding for the federal government through Tuesday, December 21.
On December 21, the Senate passed the CR (H.R.3082) that was passed by the House on December 8. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) included amendments (text starts on Congressional Record, page S10742 ) to the House bill, the most significant of which changes the expiration of the CR to March 4, 2011, making it a short-term instead of a year-long CR. The House approved the bill later that same day.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on congressional action on the FY 2011 budget.
Other Congressional News
Committee Chairs, Changes Announced. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a global warming skeptic, has been named vice chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology under incoming chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Sensenbrenner is expected to take a lead role on investigations of climate science, according to Politico. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) is in line to become chairman of the Committee's Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has split its Energy and Environment Subcommittee in two. The Economy and Environment Subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) and will focus on how environmental regulations affect the economy, while the Energy and Power Subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and have jurisdiction over energy issues and the Clean Air Act.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic Caucus released its final nominations for the Ranking Members who will serve in the 112 th Congress, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) for Natural Resources Committee and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) for House Science and Technology. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) will continue on the Foreign Affairs Committee and George Miller (D-CA) will continue on Education and Labor, though now as ranking minority members, rather than as chairs. Earlier in the month, the Democratic Caucus nominated Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) to serve as Ranking Member on the powerful Appropriations Committee and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
America COMPETES Act Through Congress. On December 17th, the Senate passed by unanimous consent an amended version of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116). The amended bill reauthorizes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy's Office of Science (DOE/OS) but differs from the bill that passed the House back in May in several ways. The revised COMPETES bill reduces the number of years authorized from five to three and also lowers authorization funding levels over those three years. The House passed the revised version on December 21 and it now awaits the President's signature. A chart that details funding levels in the various versions of the bill is available on the AAAS website.
Alzheimer Coordination Bill Advances. Both the House and the Senate passed S. 3036, which establishes the National Alzheimer's Project within the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate research, treatment, and care at the national level. The bill does not fund Alzheimer's research, but it is expected to raise the visibility of the disease.
Tax Cut Extension Includes R&D Tax Credit. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 ( H.R.4853 ) was signed by President Obama on December 17. The Act reauthorizes the research and development tax credit at previously enacted levels and extends a $0.45/gallon ethanol blenders' tax credit, a $0.54/gallon import tariff on ethanol, the biodiesel tax credit, and the 1603 Treasury grant program, which subsidizes commercial renewable energy projects through December 31, 2011.
OSTP Releases Scientific Integrity Guidelines. Last Friday, more than 21 months after President Obama requested them, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released government-wide guidelines on scientific integrity. The concise (four page) document elaborates on the principles laid out by the President on March 9, 2009, providing guidance to executive departments and agencies on the implementation of those principles. Among its provisions, it calls for agencies to communicate scientific findings clearly, including an "explication of underlying assumptions; accurate contextualization of uncertainties; and a description of the probabilities associated with both optimistic and pessimistic projections, including best-case and worst-case scenarios where appropriate." Reaction to the guidelines was mixed, as some observers felt they left too much discretion to the individual agencies in implementation.
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EPA Delays New Emissions Regulations. Despite campaign promises by President Obama to strengthen environmental regulations governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has postponed issuing new, tougher rules that had been set to take effect in the next few weeks. In what observers regard as a nod to the new political reality in Washington, EPA announced that it would need until July 2011 to complete its analysis of studies underlying the new regulations on smog and until April 2012 on boiler regulation.
Synthetic Biology Report Released. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has concluded that the field of synthetic biology poses limited risks and should be allowed to proceed. In its report, the panel of 13 scientists, ethicists, and public policy experts said the newness of the science, which involves the design and construction of living organisms from non-living parts, gives regulators, ethicists and others time to identify any problems early on and craft solutions that can harness the technology for public good.
Renewable Energy Export Initiative Announced. Eight federal agencies are participating in a new Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative, intended to promote and expand U.S. clean technology exports. The Departments of Energy and Commerce co-chair the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee Working Group, which developed the initiative. The initiative comes at the same time as an independent report found that three countries - Japan, U.S. and Germany - were responsible for 60% of patents in clean technologies between 2000-2005. In other renewable news, the Obama Administration released the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for public comment until March 17, 2011.
Fox News Memo on Climate Change. Media Matters, a watchdog group, has reported that a top Fox News official last year instructed the network's journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY [sic] pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." The email was sent shortly after a Fox correspondent accurately reported on-air during the Copenhagen talks that the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was "on track to be the warmest [decade] on record."
Scientist Alleges Discrimination. A judge has allowed a religious discrimination suit against the University of Kentucky to move forward. The case is being brought by an astronomer who claims he was passed over for the job of director at the university's new MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his evangelical religious beliefs and statements he made that some faculty members viewed as critical of the theory of evolution though he counters that his views support mainstream evolutionary science. The case is set to go to trial on February 8.
European Patent System Changes Proposed. The European Commission (EC) presented a proposal to create a single European patent that would be valid in all participating nations. The EC received support from 12 nations and, by invoking the �enhanced cooperation mechanism,' EC officials were able to proceed without the support of all 27 member nations. The proposal, if approved by both the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, would require patent applications to be in English, French, or German and translation costs for the inventor would be reimbursed. Current European patents must be approved by the European Patent Office and then must be validated by each member state. Because of the high cost of translation and patent filing in each country, which inventors must pay, inventors on average only seek validation in 5 of the 27 European Union nations.
Happy New Year from the Policy Alert team! The Alert will not publish during the week of December 27. We will resume publication the week of January 3. Watch for a new Policy Alert "Discussion Space" on AAAS's MemberCentral in January 2011.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Kasey White
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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.