AAAS Policy Alert -- April 13, 2011
Appropriations Update. Budget negotiations came down to the wire last week as a last minute agreement averted a government shutdown. After an agreement was reached in principle, Congress passed a week-long continuing resolution with $2 billion in additional cuts, giving Congress until Friday, April 15, to write and pass a compromise bill that will fund the federal government through the end of FY 2011. Details were not available at press time, but reportedly the compromise will contain $38.5 billion in cuts from current FY 2010 spending levels, with $3 billion of the cuts coming from defense and $17.8 billion of the cuts coming from mandatory programs. While the compromise appears to have enough support to pass through both chambers of Congress, there is some dissent by newly elected House Republicans, who had wanted to see deeper cuts, and the compromise may need some Democratic support to pass the House. Most policy riders did not make it into the final compromise, but a provision that would forbid the District of Columbia from using local funds to pay for abortion services was included.
The House has scheduled floor time for debating its FY 2012 budget resolution later in the week after the FY 2011 full-year continuing resolution vote scheduled for Wednesday. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) outlined the Republicans' long-term spending plan last week. The plan would cut $6.2 trillion more in spending over the next 10 years compared to President Obama's plan in the FY 2012 budget request and would include both tax and entitlement reform. Obama plans to fill in the details of his long-term deficit reduction plan in a speech this Wednesday. A third long-term budget vision is being prepared by a bipartisan "Gang of Six," three of whom are current members of the Senate Budget Committee and four of whom participated in the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last fall. No timeframe has been given for the release of that plan, but it might be part of the Senate budget resolution.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest action on the FY 2011 and FY 2012 budgets, and to register for the annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy, to be held May 5-6 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
Other Congressional News
House Votes to Limit Climate Regulations. The House passed the Energy Tax Prevention Act (H.R. 910) by a vote of 255-172, with 19 Democrats joining Republicans in favor of the vote. The bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. An identical bill failed in the Senate after being offered by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as an amendment to a small business bill. Three other amendments to limit or delay EPA climate regulations also failed. President Obama has threatened to veto the House bill.
Senators Urge Tighter Vehicle Emission Standards. Seventeen Democratic Senators and one Republican have sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa J ackson u rging tighter fuel efficiency and carbon emission standards for cars and light trucks for 2017 to 2025. During that period, the standards will likely incrementally improve efficiency and reduce emissions, providing auto manufacturers with a roadmap for compliance. The current incrementally improving standards run from 2012-2016.
CCS Bill Introduced. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced The Carbon Dioxide Capture Technology Act (S. 757) on April 7. The bill would create incentives for development of new carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies through a prize system.
NIH to Reduce Electronic Grants System Contractors. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced it is eliminating 20 percent of the contractors who help run its electronic grant system. "In the strained budget climate," said NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey, NIH's Electronic Research Administration (eRA) "has been dealt a major reduction in its budget." The eRA system handles hundreds of thousands of grant applications, awards and other documents. The cuts will result in a delayed eRA response and many curtailed projects.
GAO Reports on Redundancies in Government Programs. Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report identifying "potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation" among government programs that could offer potential savings if addressed. Recommendations include streamlining ethanol policies and programs, consolidating federal data centers, integrating interagency oversight of biological threat research programs, and reducing ineffective teacher training programs.
USPTO Offers Expedited Patent Review. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has announced it will offer expedited examination of patent applications for an additional fee. Starting May 4, for $4,000 plus usual filing fees, patent applications will be processed within 12 months. It currently takes nearly three years to process an average patent application. The requests will be ini tially l imited to 10,000 applications, though the limit will be revisited at the end of the fiscal year.
DOE Launches Stimulus Innovation Program. The Department of Energy has launched a program called "America's Next Top Energy Innovator," which gives start-up companies inexpensive and streamlined access to unlicensed patents from its national labs. The upfront cost of licensing DOE patents will be $1,000 for up to three patents in a specific technology. Any of the 15,000 unlicensed patents and patent applications held by the national labs will be available. The program will run from May 2 to Dec 15.
CDC Reconsidering Ban on HIV-Positive Organ Donation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue new guidelines encouraging research on transplanting organs from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients, ending a 23-year ban on organ donations by people who are HIV-positive. Ten such transplants have taken place in South Africa with only one rejection, and the state of Illinois legalized organ donations from HI V-positive donors in 2004. About 110,000 Americans total are currently waiting for organ donations.
Reports Question U.S. Ability to Deal with Catastrophes. In the wake of the massive earthquake in Japan, a recently released National Research Council (NRC) report expressed concern that the United States is underfunding the interagency National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The report provides a 20-year road map for improving U.S. "resiliency to earthquakes." In related news, a report prepared last year for the Department of Homeland Security says the nation's health system is ill-equipped to cope with a catastrophic release of radiation. The report, obtained by Pro Publica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, says the health system "can only handle a few radiation injuries at any one time." It adds that "there is no strategy for notifying the public in real time of recommendations on shelter or evacuation priorit ies."
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Tennessee House Passes Anti-Evolution Bill. By a vote of 70 to 23 on April 7, an anti-evolution bill (HB 368) passed Tennessee's House of Representatives. The bill, if enacted, would require state and local education authorities to assist teachers in helping students "analyze" and "critique" the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of theories it labels as controversial, including evolution and global warming.
Water Safety Concerns Prompt New Testing in Pennsylvania. At EPA's request, the state of Pennsylvania is requiring 14 drinking water authorities to conduct new tests for radioactive pollutants, and has asked an additional 25 wastewater plants to voluntarily screen for radium, uranium and other contaminants. The New York Times has reported that natural gas drilling has led to the discharge of highly radioactive wastewater into rivers and streams served by treatment facilities that were not designed to remove radioactive materials. According to The Times, a water treatment plant in Johnstown has accepted wastewater with alpha radiation levels about 2,157 times higher than the standard for drinking water.
UN Climate Change Conference. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held a meeting in Bangkok from March 30 to April 8. Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention agreed to an agenda to work towards "a comprehensive and balanced outcome" in Durban, South Africa -- the next major conference.
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