Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, energy, environment and natural resources, and intellectual property.
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions
Sequestration – Deadline Looming
- CONGRESS: Pirate Fishing; Cap & Trade; Cantor on Science; House Appropriations; House STEM Resolution; Democrats and NRC; Wyden on Climate; Hearings & Events
- ADMINISTRATION & INDEPENDENT AGENCIES: SOTU; Appointments; Open Access; Energy Trust; Research Space; First-to-File; Brain Mapping; Breast Cancer; Alaska Lands; Protecting Whales; GMO; Satellite Data Risk
- COURTS: Whaling; GMO Seeds, Public Lands
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
Sequestration Deadline Looming: Once again, sequestration remains a top concern for policy makers in Washington, DC. The threat of the self-imposed deadline of March 1, 2013 for automatic across-the-board cuts of approximately 5% for discretionary accounts does not appear to enough to get Congress to reach a deal. Some Republicans appear to welcome the sequestration and stated they will not accept any tax increases. Senate Democrats made a proposal– a mix of tax increases (incomes over $1 million, ending deductions for moving equipment abroad, etc.) and spending cuts (defense, farm subsidies, etc.) – to prevent the automatic cuts, that won’t be accepted by the House. Meanwhile, President Obama made a last-ditch plea for Congress to reach a deal. If sequestration takes place, the next deadline (and likely vehicle) to fix the negative consequences of sequestration is March 27, 2013, when the FY13 Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.
- Fishing Gone Bad. Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Rockefeller (D-WV) and Delegate Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced the legislation, the “Pirate Fishing Elimination Act of 2013” and the ‘Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2013′, respectively, which aim to curb illegal fishing.
- Cap & Trade. In response to President Obama’s statement that he would direct EPA to issues rules address climate change absent Congressional action, Rep. Poe (R-TX) introduced legislation that prevents EPA from using federal funds to implement a cap & trade program that regulates greenhouse gases.
- Cantor on Science. In response to an column in The New York Times by Paul Krugman painting Republicans as anti-science for wanting to increase medical research funding at the expense of other science-based funding, House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) claimed that in fact Republicans are simply following “common sense.” Cantor additionally claimed that his caucus was pro-science for initiating the doubling of funding for NIH and proposing legislation that allows foreign-born STEM graduates the opportunity to remain in the US. Two things were clear in Mr. Cantor’s letter. First, that the Republican embracing of science seems limited to biomedical research and second, the Republicans do not understand the value of economic and social science research.
- House Appropriations. In what may be a bold move, House Appropriations Chairman Rogers (R-KY) plans to propose an appropriations bill for the rest of the fiscal year that includes new defense and MilCon-VA funding, as well as the funding for the rest of FY13. The current congressional Resolution (CR) expires on March 27, 2013 and this bill may serve as the vehicle for both the CR and to deal with the impacts of sequestration.
- House STEM Push Next week, the House will vote on a resolution, Academic Competition Resolution of 2013, promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and creating a STEM competition for every Congressional district. The Resolution acknowledges the benefits of a strong STEM education (“STEM fields are necessary to ensure a qualified national workforce and growing American economy…”) and bemoans the inadequacies of students’ current level of understanding (“A recent study found that less than one-third of eighth graders in the United States showed proficiency in mathematics and science.”)
- Democrats Push NRC. In direct contrast to the Republicans (see FEDERAL POLICY WEEK posting Energy & Innovation) who urged Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Macfarlane to slow down decision-making on post-Fukushima safety actions, several Senate Democrats, including Energy Chairman Wyden and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Boxer, sent a letter to Chairwoman Macfarlane urging her to proceed promptly.
- Wyden on Climate. In a recent energy speech in his home state of Oregon, Senator Wyden declared “Inaction on climate is not an option.” Further, he acknowledge the environmental issues related to natural gas, while touting the benefits in reducing harmful emissions (as the country moves from coal to natural gas).
Congressional Hearings & Events
House Energy and Commerce Committee:
- NRC: Policy and Governance Challenges February 28, 2013
- American Energy Security and Innovation February 26, 2013.
House Science Committee:
- Cybersecurity R&D Challenges and Solutions February 26, 2013
- Midlevel Ethanol Blends February 26, 2013
- A Review of The Space Research Preservation Act February 27, 2013
- Top Challenges for Science Agencies February 28, 2013
- The Appropriations Committee has multiple Subcommittee hearings scheduled on February 26 (Defense, Energy, Leg Branch) & 27 (Interior & Environment, Homeland Security, Energy, State, Leg Branch).
Senate Energy Committee
- Opportunities and Challenges for Natural Gas February 12, 2013
House R&D Caucus
- New Nuclear Technology: Small Modular Reactors February 25, 2013
- Battelle 2013: Global R&D Forecast February 28, 2013
Administration & Independent Agencies:
- State of the Union: The SOTU contained several references to issues of importance to readers of this blog. See the Federal Policy Week posting The State of the Union Speech for details. Senator Rubio (R-FL) delivered the Republican response, which not surprisingly focused on why government is (primarily) bad and a free market economy is the solution for our Nation’s woes. Rubio’s full speech and relevant excerpts are in the Federal Policy Week posting The Republican Response.
*Following the SOTU, the Administration released The President’s Plan for a Strong Middle Class and A Strong America, which outlines his vision for the next Administration, including issues like energy, manufacturing, R&D, and STEM education.
- Administration Appointments According to the Reuters President Obama has selected Gina McCarthy to head EPA and Ernie Moniz to lead Energy, but no announcements yet.
- Open Access. The White House, in a memo by Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Holdren, announced its plan to increase public access to federally funded research results. Although the directive orders agencies with R&D budgets over $100 million to develop plans, it encourages agencies to work together. The National Science Foundation (NSF) already announced its intentions to collaborate with other agencies to provide additional access to results and enhance the management of the resulting digital data.
- Energy Trust. President Obama announced the creation of an “Energy Security Trust,” funded by oil and gas revenues from drilling on public lands, during the SOTU address. As reported in Greenwire, the Trust, which is aimed at moving the auto fleet away from oil, does not require increased drilling, but does assume a 20% increase on public lands.
- Research Space. According to a report released by NSF, research universities and colleges increased their research space by 3.5 percent from FY 2009 – FY 2011, with the majority of the increases seen in biological and biomedical sciences. Some see this as a positive sign others question whether too much federal funding is being used for buildings instead of supporting researchers.
- First-to-File. With the passage of the America Invents Act (AIA), the Patent and Trademark Office issued new rules and guidelines that move the US away from “first-to-invent” to “first-to-file.” The rules go into effect on March 16. This change, which proponents argued was necessary to harmonize US rules with other nations, remained controversial throughout the debate of the AIA as others argued it increased burdens on small inventors who need to file more frequently and earlier. The new rules alter the novelty and obviousness provisions, potentially increasing the likelihood of more challenges to future patents.
- Brain Studies. The Obama Administration announced a new effort, coordinated by OSTP and similar to the Human Genome Project, to study the human brain. The decade-long study will aim to map the entire human brain and comes on the heels of his SOTU in which he specifically called out the need for brain research. As reported in The New York Times, in addition to federal agencies (National Institutes of Health, NSF, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the project will involve private foundations and “teams of neuroscientists and neanoscientists.” More details are expected in March.
- Tackling Breast Cancer. The Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC), which the Secretary of the Health and Human Services was required to establish under the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, issued its report on breast cancer research. The report concludes that insufficient funding goes toward studying the broadly-defined environmental causes (e.g. alcohol, exercise, pesticides, pollutants, drugs, etc.) of breast cancer and ways to prevent it, as reported by The New York Times. Approximately 10 percent of research funding goes to study environmental factors and prevention, too little proportionately according to the report. With funding getting tighter and many stakeholders involved, it is unclear if Congress or the Administration will support the shift toward studying environmental causes and prevention.
- Alaska Lands. Interior Secretary Salazar, in one of his last acts before resigning, issued a Record of Decision for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska that allows exploitation of lands, including pipelines, while expanding protected areas by five million acres (up to 13.35 million)
- Satellite Data Risks. The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a scathing report concluding that there are serious looming gaps in weather data and added mitigating gaps in weather satellite data to its “High Risk List.” Specifically, GAO reported “Potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have raised concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings, including those for hurricanes, storm surges, and floods, will be less accurate and timely.”
- Protecting Whales. The US Supreme Courtrejected the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s (SSCS) appeal of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an injunction against the SSCS, preventing it from interfering with Japanese whalers to the Supreme Court. It is unclear if Congress or the Administration will step in to the fray.
- GMO Seeds. The case of a farmer re-using Monsanto genetically modified seeds has reached the US Supreme Court. Monsanto has argued that if farmers are allowed to re-use the seeds, the company’s patent rights are essentially gutted, which will devastate the industry. The farmer, who actually complied with the Monsanto agreement for his main crop, purchased and planted seeds from an elevator for his second crop, landing him in trouble since those seeds were primarily Monsanto seeds. The Department of Justice, universities, agriculture and industry groups have filed amicus briefs in support of Monsanto.
- This Land is Open for Business. The New York Times published an editorial on federal lands that outlines recent history of federal land protection. While Presidents Bush I and Clinton took admirable efforts to permanently secure federal lands for future generations by not allowing excessive exploitation, Presidents Bush II and Obama have reversed that trend, with applauds from Western states. Both recent Presidents have opened far more public lands for development and private gain than they have protected, with President Obama (see story above on Alaska Lands).
IN THE KNOW: EVENTS PAST & FUTURE
Upcoming Events (listed by date):
- ARPA-E, Energy Innovation Summit, February 25-27, 2013
- Wilson Center, Global Trends 2030: Demographic and Environmental Changes and the Future of International Security, February 26, 2013.
- Urban Institute, The Charitable Deduction: A View from the Other Side of the Cliff, February 28, 2013.
Recent Past Events (listed by date):