Energy in the Spotlight.

Members of Congress return on November 13, 2012 to continue their work.  Meanwhile, the Administration continues its work, as do the Courts.

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Timely Topics: Energy Policies – Romney vs. Obama

Capitol News:

–Congress: Sequestration; Taxes; Telecommunications; House Leadership

Obama Administration: Commerce & Chinese Solar Companies; ED & College Enrollment; NSF – State Statistics; NSF – Grants; ED – Civic Learning.

–A Future Romney Administration: Taxes & Charitable Giving; Education Policy and Funding.

Courts: Affirmative Action; Copyright & Fair Use; Stem Cell Appeal.

Noteworthy News: Higher Ed & Next Congress; Education Policy & ADHD Drugs; Race to the Top & Gaps; Wind & Solar Subsidies; Non-Profit Online Education; Navy & Marine Mammals.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

TIMELY TOPICS:  Energy Policies – Romney vs. Obama.

Surrogates for the Obama and Romney campaigns debated their energy policies at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) forum.  The current domestic policy director for the Romney campaign, Oren Cass, debated against Harvard University Professor Joseph Aldy, who represented the Obama Campaign.  The surrogates expanded on the priorities and policies reflected in the Romney energy platform and Obama energy platform.

I encourage you to watch the video of the debate, which provides a comprehensive overview the candidates’ approaches to energy policy. Some highlights from the debate include:

Both campaigns support DOE’s ARPA-E (created to “focus on creative ‘out-of-the-box’ transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation,” according to the ARPA-E website).

Much of the debate focused on the natural gas, including the federal government’s role in the current boom. Cass gave credit for the boom (from fracking) entirely to the private sector.  (Note that this claim contradicts an AP article in a previous post, Congress Left, Sequestration Looming  that credits federal government investments with aiding the current natural gas boom). Aldy raised the federal support provided for both research and tax subsidies as key components in natural gas’ current success.  In addition, the two surrogates argued over whether the Obama Administration has provided access to federal lands for exploration and development.

The surrogates debated the value of subsidies for renewable energies, with Alby citing the importance of subsidies to level the playing field with the oil and gas sector and Cass siting Romney’s general opposition to subsidies for renewable energy technologies beyond the early stages.  Cass responded to Alby’s allegation that Romney will not end subsidies for oil and gas by framing the current subsidies as decades old and consistent with other industries.

Cass made clear that Romney supports coal “as is” and reiterated the claim that Obama has launched a “war on coal.”  Alby rebutted the claim, arguing that Obama supports “clean coal” and that the current downturn in coal results from the low cost of natural gas, not EPA regulations.

Alby stated that Obama’s policies extend beyond opening new markets, to encouraging energy efficiency.  Cass focused on opening up energy resources, saying that the market would embrace energy efficient technologies when cost-effective and opposing government requirements for their adoption.

As for climate change, Alby contended that Obama has worked to encourage other nations to embrace policies to reduce emissions, as well as offering proposals in the US.  Cass concluded that unilateral action on behalf of the US would be unwise; it would not be effective and merely harm our economy.  Moreover, Cass stated Romney’s position on climate change is that the government should simply support basic research and the private sector can address the problem by moving forward with a technical revolution.  Finally, Romney apparently believes more research is necessary to understand the extent of human activities contributing to climate change and the potential consequences of climate change.

CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions.

While most Members are campaigning in their home districts, some are still holding events in DC.  Others continue to discuss, develop, defend, and deride federal policy from home.  Meanwhile, the Administration and Courts continue their work.


–Sequestration.  Will there be a deal?  With all the pre-election politics, rumors continue to fly about deals to prevent sequestration.  In the last posting (The Supremes Return), I discussed a The New York Times article on a deal developing between Senate Democrats and Republicans.  This week, the prognosis for a quick deal declined, as House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) concluded that a deal during the lame-duck is unlikely, and in his opinion, bad for the country, as reported by Politico.

–He’s the Tax Man. Senator Schumer (D-NY) laid out his position on taxes and entitlement reform in a recent press conference.  Although his approach does not officially represent the Senate Democrats’ position, given his leadership position, it will be given significant consideration.  Primarily, he rejected the idea of closing loopholes as a means to lower everyone’s tax rates.  He advocates for increasing revenues, through individual rates, especially capital gains, not corporate rates, as well as endorses cuts in spending, as under the Budget Control Act, to address the deficit.  Why is this important?  All agree that we must tackle the deficit.  The main question is when and how.  Senator Schumer put entitlements on the table, but as calls to reduce spending continue, it will make it harder to invest in education, research, and infrastructure.  Something to keep in mind.

— Telecommunications: Push Back on Chinese Companies.  Leaders of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in a news conference, urged American companies to cease work with two Chinese telecommunications companies that they concluded pose a security threat to the US.  Chairman Rogers (R-MI) and Ranking Member Ruppersberger (D-MD) issued the report, “Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE,” which also recommends that the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States prevent Huawei and ZTE from conducting any acquisitions or mergers.  The report also recommends that relevant Committees and agencies investigate unfair trade practices.  The Chinese companies launched a counter-campaign against the accusations, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

–House Republican’s Leadership Vote.  According to a National Journal’s Influence Alley article, House Republicans scheduled elections for leadership positions during the week of November 12.  If Republicans hold the House, top positions, including House Speaker (Boehner, OH), Majority Leader (Cantor, VA), and Majority Whip (McCarthy, CA), should not change.  The outcomes of other key positions, including for the House Republican Conference, Study Committee and Policy Committee are less clear.


–Commerce Rules Against Chinese Solar Companies.  As described in a previous posting (Congress Left, Sequestration Looming), several Senators urged Commerce to crack down on Chinese solar manufacturers.  And, Commerce issued a final ruling on October 10, 2012, levying tariffs of 24 to 36% on solar panels imported from China.  According to an article in The New York Times, the ruling does not prevent evasion of the tariffs by companies that use Chinese component parts in products assembled outside of China and import into the US.  Struggling manufacturers are hoping the tariffs will allow them to compete in the solar panel market.  One concern, however, is that the cost of solar panels will subsequently increase, leading to fewer consumers purchasing this renewable technology.

–ED Preliminary Report: College Enrollment Stagnant.  Just as public universities embrace the goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with college degrees through its Project Degree Completion program (as reported in the last blog posting The Supremes Return) the Department of Education announced that enrollment at colleges and universities dropped slightly.  According to preliminary data from ED’s National Center for Education Statistics enrollment decreased slightly.  According to Inside Higher Education, “the biggest swings in institutional enrollments were for private nonprofit colleges (up nearly 2 percent) and for-profit institutions (down 3 percent). Declines in two-year enrollments drove most of the decrease for the for-profit sector and kept public college enrollments from growing, more than offsetting an increase of more than 120,000 in enrollment at four-year public colleges.”

–NSF State Profiles Website.  The National Science Foundation announced a new site from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.  The new site provides web tools to access, by state, the most current data on a many science and engineering factors including federal R&D (total and by agency), industry R&D, doctorates awarded, employed doctorates, graduate students, and graduate students.

–NSF Grant Guide.  For those interested in applying for grants from NSF online, the new NSF Grant Guide is now available.

–ED: Input Wanted.  ED announced recently that it is soliciting input on its Road Map for civic learning called “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy.”  In the Road Map, which has the objective of expanding and enhancing civic learning, ED outlines nine steps is undertaking to further that objective.

A ROMNEY ADMINISTRATION. Until at least the election, I will include a special section on what we may see under a Romney Administration.

While we know a bit more from the surrogate debate on what to expect from Governor Romney in the energy sector, we also are learning more about potential Romney policies from his various statements.

–Romney Tax Plans – University Impact.  If Governor Romney’s tax plan limiting deductions to $17,000 becomes law, expect major reductions in charitable given, according to an article in Bloomberg.  According to the article, which also takes issue with some of President Obama’s proposals, “[m]useums, medical researchers and food banks have their livelihoods at stake” under Romney’s plan.  Moreover, people who itemize deductions are likely to reduce giving and “[i]temizers tend to be concentrated at the top and donate more heavily to the arts, health and education.”  If Romney’s proposed cap on charitable giving goes into effect, universities and other recipients should anticipate reductions in giving.

–Romney – Vouchers & Education Funding.  Some policies are clear.  For example, Romney campaign’s position on education allows for K-12 funding to “follow the child,” or for funding to go to non-traditional public schools through vouchers.  Governor Romney promised to not cut funding for education during the first Presidential debate.  Further, Governor Romney stated in the debate that he would not cut grants for college.  His education platform states “[h]owever, a flood of federal dollars is driving up tuition and burdening too many young Americans with substantial debt and too few opportunities.”  The Washington Post education blog looks at these statements, as well as the Ryan budget plan, in an attempt to reconcile the differences and to compare Romney’s positions to the positions of the Obama Administration.  The Blog also posted a reaction to what Obama said at the first debate.


–Affirmative Action.  As mentioned in the last posting, The Supremes Return, the Supreme Court heard Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that has possible significant ramifications for affirmative action policies at universities.  According to a The New York Times article, Justice Kennedy, widely viewed as the swing vote in this case, did not reveal his leanings during questioning.  So, we will need to wait and see if the Supreme Court will overturn, partially or completely, the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, or allow it to remain intact.  For the nuts and bolts of the Fisher case, see this recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.

–Fair Use – Academic Libraries.  Academic libraries successfully defended their right, in federal court, to copy and use works for limited uses under the “fair use” doctrine.  As described in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, the HathiTrust Digital Library and several universities, under the ruling did not violate copyright laws; they can continue to use and make available the scanned texts for “making copies for preservation and full-text searching and indexing. HathiTrust does not make copyrighted material openly available to the public.”

–Stem Cell Appeal.  Plaintiffs in a case seeking to block federal support for stem cell research filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court after an appellate court upheld the district court’s dismissal their case.  The plaintiffs base much of their argument on the belief that the NIH funding violates the Dickey-Wicker law, which prevents funding of research that destroys human embryos.  In deferring to the NIH definition of research, the court again rejected the plaintiffs’ argument.  The plaintiffs argue in their petition to the Supreme Court, that the lower court erred “when it ruled that it was bound by the reasoning of its earlier split decision in the case.”  They also argue that NIH “violated federal law when it intentionally disregarded tens of thousands of citizen comments lodged against its proposed guidelines.” You can read more background on this case, which I first described the Appeals Court decision in my blog posting Florida, Courts, and More.


–How Higher Ed may Fare Next Congress.  Depending on the election results, the future of higher education could vary tremendously.  If the Administration changes hands, the Republicans capture the majority in the Senate, or lose it in the House of Representatives, funding, policies, and programs could radically change.  Inside Higher Education explores the possible scenarios and pressing questions in a recent article such as, will Pell Grant funding be reduced or will Congress pass a new Higher Education Act?

–Education Policy and ADHD Drugs.  The New York Times had an extensive exposé on the use of ADHD drugs as a tool used by doctors and parents of children who do not have ADHD to improve school performance.  While the topic of overuse or inappropriate use of ADHD drugs remains contentious, the article raises two issues related to federal education policy worth noting.  First, the doctor profiled in the article does not believe ADHD is a real disorder, but stated that he “prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.”  Second, a the article notes that a “superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. have risen as sharply as school funding has declined.”  Whether the correlation between school funding and use of stimulants is positive or not, this is a trend worth following.

–The Obama Administration continues to advocate for its K-12 agenda through the Race to the Top program and granting of waivers to states that cannot comply with the unrealistic requirements of No Child Left Behind, critics of its approach continue to raise concerns.  As described in The New York Times article “Loopholes Seen at Schools in Obama’s Get-Tough Policy” some critics complain that the Administration is allowing states to set low standards, especially for low-income and minority students, acerbating achievement gaps.  Others criticize the inordinate reliance on standardize test scores to evaluate teachers.

–Wind and Solar – Do We Need Federal Subsidies?  The Wall Street Journal asked two experts with opposing views for their thoughts.  Arguing in favor of continuing the subsidies temporarily, Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution, believes that the subsidies are necessary for solar and wind to overcome barriers in the energy industry.  Muro additionally argues the subsidies are helping achieve the goal of making renewables more accessible.  Advocating for the termination of solar and wind subsidies, Heritage Foundation’s David Kreutzer primarily argues the subsidies merely shift the costs of renewable products to the government, not reduce them, and wind and solar will never be truly cost-effective.

–Non-profits Online Giants? The Parthenon Group released a new report, “Are the Sleeping Giants Awake? Non-profit Universities Enter Online Education at Scale,” which concludes that competition in the online working adult education sphere will grow.  Non-profit universities continue to expand their presence online and are competing for the same group of working adults traditionally “attending” for-profit institutions, according to the report.  The value of for-profit institutions’ education, as well as for-profits recruiting practices have received scrutiny in Congress, especially by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

–The Navy and Marine Mammals.  An earlier blog posting (The Week in Washington – Keeping Funding Flowing) discussed a recent case in which a Federal court allowed the Navy to build and operate a training site in close proximity to breeding areas of endangered Right Whales.  The New York Times editorial urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to reject the Navy’s requests to “take” (which ranges from interfering with their habitat to outright killing of the animals) marine mammals in the Atlantic and Pacific.  According to the editorial, the Navy estimates that between 2014 and 2019 it will “take” nearly 33 million marine mammals.”  Although it estimates closer to 1,800 will actually be killed, that is far too many according to the Editorial Board.

IN THE KNOW: Upcoming Events & Previous Events.

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

–AEI: Education Reform in the Next White House: A Conversation with the Obama and Romney Campaigns, Tuesday, October 16, 2012

–Koshland Science Museum: Science Café: The Science of Biodiversity, Wednesday, October 17, 2012

–The Wilson Center: Book Discussion–Rising to the Challenge: U.S. Innovation Policy for the Global Economy, Wednesday, October 17, 2012

–CATO Institute: The Real Effects of Sequestration, Thursday, October 18, 2012

–ITIF:  Is the American Economy in Decline?, Thursday, October 18, 2012

–Brookings: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms, Friday, October 19, 2012

–Bipartisan Policy Institute: Campaign 2012 Coverage: Breaking New Ground, Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Events Last Week:

–The Wilson Center: Beyond Seven Billion: Reporting on Population, Environment, and Security, Tuesday, October 9, 2012

–CATO Institute: Time to End Affirmative Action? Fisher v. University of Texas, Tuesday, October 9, 2012

–New America Foundation: Arms Relay Race China Innovation,Tuesday, October 9, 2012

–New America Foundation: It’s Science and Tech Policy, Stupid.  A Future Tense and Delve Into ’12 Event, Tuesday, October 9, 2012

–American Enterprise Institute (AEI): Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of Anti-Scientific Left, Wednesday, October 10, 2012



5 thoughts on “Energy in the Spotlight.

  1. Pingback: The Real Impacts of Sequestration & Who Might be in the Next Administration. « Federal Policy Week



  4. Pingback: TIC TOC GOES THE CLOCK. WILL CONGRESS REACH A DEAL? « Federal Policy Week

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