AAAS Policy Alert -- September 28, 2011
IN THIS ISSUE
The House and Senate appear to have reached a compromise on an emergency disaster aid funding package which both chambers want to include in a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through November 18. The CR is needed because Congress will not finish all its FY 2012 appropriations by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The House bill, passed earlier, provided $3.65 billion for disaster aid and offset $1.6 billion with cuts to clean energy manufacturing loan programs, but the Senate Democratic leadership had advocated $6.9 billion in disaster aid with no offsets. The compromise bill, passed by the Senate late on September 26, provides $2.65 billion in disaster relief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with no specific offsets, while setting the overall discretionary spending level at $1.042 trillion, $1 billion less than what had been agreed upon in the The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L.112-25). This level would amount to a 1.5% cut across most discretionary accounts with a few exceptions. The bill also extends the SBIR/STTR small business research programs through November 18.
The Senate Appropriations Committee continues its rapid pace with the approval on September 21 of three more FY 2012 appropriations bills: Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; and State and Foreign Operations. Although the full Senate has passed only one of the twelve appropriations bills, the Appropriations Committee has now approved all but one bill. The Senate Labor, HHS, and Education bill would fund the National Institutes of Health at $30.5 billion, a $190 million (0.6%) decrease from FY 2011. It would also approve the creation of a new NIH center, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NCATS will replace the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) whose programs will be redistributed between NCATS and the other Institutes and Centers.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest congressional action on the FY 2012 budget.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
House Committee to Investigate Proposed NOAA Program . Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has announced his intention to start a formal committee investigation into whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched activities of a newly organized climate service without explicit authorization from Congress (see Committee press release). NOAA's FY 2012 budget request includes a reorganization to bring together widely dispersed climate capabilities under a single line office. The goal, NOAA says, is to more effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate.
House Passes Bill to Delay EPA Regulations. On September 23 the House passed H.R. 2401, The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act of 2011 (see Summary). The legislation mandates a cumulative economic-impact review of EPA rules before any new regulations go into effect, effectively delaying any new EPA regulation. It also explicitly delays new regulations to reduce mercury emissions from power plants and sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions from power plants in Eastern states. The bill is not likely to advance in the Senate, but some provisions could be incorporated into appropriations bills.
National Endowment for the Oceans Advances . The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), which would designate Clean Water Act fines for last year's oil spill to environmental restoration and recovery for the Gulf region. An amendment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was included that provides funding for a national ocean trust fund entitled the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO). The bill designates interest on the Clean Water Act fines to the NEO to the support of a national competitive grant program to support activities in any state that would benefit oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes. The text of the NEO bill can be found here.
DOE Releases Quadrennial Technology Review. The Department of Energy released its Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) on September 27 at an event at AAAS. The QTR establishes a framework to set priorities within the Department's research and development portfolio around six key strategies and highlights the need for better technical analysis of its R&D activities.
DHS Unveils Interactive Web Site to Assist International Students. In a push to enhance U.S. economic, scientific, and technological competitiveness, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton on September 16 unveiled a new web-based initiative, "Study in the States." The initiative aims to help attract the world's best and brightest international students to the U.S. The web site (available via the DHS press release) uses interactive and accessible information, such as "Road Map to Success," links to social media websites, and a blog providing tips and success stories. The initiative builds upon other new policies such as allowing new science, technology, engineering and math foreign graduates to remain in the U.S. for up to twenty-nine months with the Optional Practical Training extension program (OPT).
Comment on the above item. The Policy Alert blog is located on AAAS's MemberCentral. Once you are logged in, click on "Blogs" and look for "Capitol Connection" in the drop-down list.
Appeal Filed in Stem Cell Case. As expected, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging federal funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research have filed an appeal after their case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. Lamberth had originally agreed sufficiently with the two plaintiffs, adult stem cell researchers James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, to grant a preliminary injunction on hESC research, but that injunction was overturned by a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit - the court in which the appeal is now filed. According to a Science Insider article, legal experts consider the plaintiffs' chances of success to be slim.
Controversial Mine Proposal Draws Scrutiny at AAAS Town Hall Meeting in Alaska. The Pebble Project , a proposal to extract an estimated $300 billion-plus worth of gold, copper, and molybdenum from a site in the remote Bristol Bay area of southwest Alaska, has been the subject of controversy since it was first announced several years ago. The streams that traverse the site and flow into the bay are spawning areas for a large share of Alaska's remaining stocks of wild salmon. The AAAS Town Hall, highlight of the annual meeting of the AAAS Arctic Division held this year in Dillingham, Alaska, brought together scientists, policymakers (including the Alaska state representative from the region and the former president of the Alaska Senate), Native Alaskans, and other stakeholders for a lively forum attended by meeting participants and an estimated 100 local citizens. Reports from the local National Public Radio affiliate are archived here and here.
Brazilian Scientists Petition for Share of Oil Royalties to Support Science. Brazilian scientists are circulating a public petition requesting that 7% of all royalties from recently discovered oil reserves in the Atlantic seabed be used to support science, technology, and innovation. According to a SciDev.net article, about 1% of Brazil's gross domestic product (GDP) is currently spent on science and technology. The Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) estimates that in the next 40 years, the government's royalties from the oil fields could reach $1.2 trillion. This petition, which is supported by the Brazilian science minister and educational institutions, currently has 20,000 signatures. The SBPC aims to have one million signatures by October 5, just in time for a lower parliamentary house vote on a draft of the oil royalty bill.
Algeria's Science Budget on the Rise. A recent report by Algeria's Ministry for Scientific Research indicates that the science budget has increased three-fold since 2007 to its current value of 1% of the nation's GDP, and is anticipated to rise to 1.2% of GDP in the upcoming year. However, as reported in a SciDev.net article, issues such as excessive bureaucracy and the lack of an experienced workforce have "prevent[ed] new investment from leading to high-calibre output."
Japanese Officials Concerned About Radioactivity in Rice. Recent tests on rice from paddies about 35 miles from the Fukushima plant found levels of radiation of 500 becquerels per kilogram (bq/kg) from cesium. The highest level previously detected in rice from the Fukushima Prefecture had been 150 bq/kg. Under Japanese regulations, 500 bq/kg is the limit at which rice is considered safe for human consumption. Further tests have been ordered, and shipments of rice from the area may be banned if such high levels are found again, according to a New York Times report.
Climate Scientists Demand Publisher Correct Major Error in New Atlas. The new edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World , released last week, indicates that Greenland has lost about 15% of its ice since 1999, uncovering large portions of its coastline. According to a New York Times report, glaciologists, who said they had not been consulted, pointed out that this was a vast overstatement. Current estimates of the actual loss are closer to 0.1%. Climate scientists, still smarting from the repercussions of a similar error in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), mobilized to force a correction before the story received too much play in the media. The publisher, Harper Collins, subsequently issued an apology and "clarification."
Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert .
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Patrick Clemins, Gwen Coat, Edward Derrick, Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Al Teich, Kasey White, Brad Wible
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.