Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, immigration, energy, environment, natural resources, and intellectual property.
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Capitol News: Immigration Proposals
Congressional, Administrative, Courts
CONGRESS: Higher Ed Reauthorization; Program Integrity; HEA Compromise; Keystone XL; FutureGen; Energy Efficiency; House Energy Committee; House Science Committee; Upcoming Hearings
ADMINISTRATION & INDEPENDENT AGENCIES: Nominations and Confirmations; Sequestration; Science Funding; Competency-based Education; USDA & FAA; Geothermal; EPA Carbon Rules; Dry Cask Storage; R&D Data; Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
COURTS: Myriad; Researchers and Confidentiality.
Noteworthy News: Texas & Math; Prospects for Energy and Climate Policy.
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
Capitol News. The “Gang of Eight” in the Senate finally released the much anticipated immigration plan this past week. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act introduce by four Democratic Senators (Schumer (NY), Bennet (CO), Menendez (NJ), and Durbin (IL)) and four Republican Senators (Rubio (FL), McCain (AZ), Graham (SC), and Flake (AZ)) provides a comprehensive approach to immigration that likely has the best chance of passing, despite its critics. A summary and FAQ sheet are available, but some key, relevant provisions for the readers of Federal Policy Week include:
- DREAM Act: These provisions allow a young immigrant brought to the US by parents to apply for citizenship (through a pathway and steps) if they meet certain requirements, such as pursuing an education or military service. (Section 2102).
- Highly-Skilled Workers: In an attempt to attract and retain well educated immigrants, reforms were made to H-1B visas were, including “stamping a green card to the graduates diploma.” The provisions for eligibility use a priority scale in which applicants get points and are ranked (the total number of visas is increased, capped at 110,000). Graduates of American universities in certain fields can apply for visas, but the new system provides more points for PhDs, followed by MS, and then applicants who earn bachelor degrees. There are additional points for current employment, certain occupations, entrepreneurship activities, civic involvement, English proficiency, and country of origin. (Section 2301)
- Student visas. The Act also contains a provision for students studying in the US: “Nonimmigrant visas for students.” (Section 4401)
House Immigration Efforts. It is unclear how the House will proceed on the immigration issue. Unlike in the Senate, there are several different approaches being offered. Several members are working on a bipartisan plan, which is expected in the near future. A group of moderate Democrats released their outline for a plan that is based on four principles, including “encouraging new investment in American technologies and products through investor and entrepreneur visas, and encourage high-skilled workers and innovators to create American jobs to ensure the United States maintains its competitiveness in the global economy through a focus on recruiting and retaining more individuals with a STEM education.” At the same time, House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) announced that he will take a more piecemeal approach to immigration, likely slowing it down and focusing on aspects more appealing to conservatives, like border security and visas for highly-skilled immigrants and student. He opposes amnesty and has opposed many of President Obama’s recent actions benefiting immigrants, as reported by NPR.
- Higher Ed Reauthorization. The House Education and Workforce Committee is holding hearings as it gears up for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) that expires at the end of the year. The Committee held hearings on various topics, including federal student loans, higher ed and jobs, and college costs. At the same time, the Senate HELP Committee has been holding hearings on similar topics. The last time HEA was reauthorized, it took five years for Congress to finally passed a bill. This time Congress is hoping to finish by the end of the year, but many obstacles remain. Read more at Inside Higher Ed.
- Program Integrity Request. The Administration is attempting to revive “program integrity” rules, including “gainful employment” rules. The Chairman of the House Education Committee, together with several other Republican and Democratic Members sent a letter to ED Secretary Duncan encouraging him “to drop the widely-panned ‘gainful employment’ and ‘state authorization’ regulations and instead work with Congress to address program integrity issues as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization.”
- HEA Compromise? Federally subsidized student loan interest rates will double this summer unless action is taken to prevent that. All parties agree action should be taken. The President’s Budget Resolution calls for a return to market-based rates, which benefits current students but may harm future students as rates increase. As reported by Inside Higher Education, several Republicans have embraced this approach, while some Democrats want a cap on the rates.
- Keystone XL Pipeline. As reported in the previous Federal Policy Week posting, Moving Forward, the House Energy Committee held a hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline, with opinions largely, but not entirely on party lines. This week, the Committee voted to approve the bill, Northern Route Approval Act (H.R.3), by a vote of 30-18. The bill essentially deems the Pipeline has meet all federal requirements and removes the requirement for a permit by the President.
- FutureGen. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on the project to capture carbon from coal power plants, FutureGen, concluding the project may never come about, The Hill reports. The FutureGen project has faced multiple obstacles from both the government and private entities in its quest to prove that a carbon could be captured from a coal-fired plant and sequestered, making coal plants less environmental noxious.
- Energy Efficiency. Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH) re-introduced an energy efficiency bill, Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness (ESIC) Act, that according to the press release “uses a variety of low-cost tools to reduce barriers for private sector energy users and will drive adoption of off-the-shelf efficiency technologies among the largest energy consumers.” As reported in Politico, unlike other energy legislation this bill may have a chance of passing since it has wide support from across many sectors.
- Energy & Commerce Committee. The House’s oldest standing legislative body, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is locked in gridlock, according to the National Journal, which describes the situation of the Republican and Democrat staffs (and hence Members) as they “seem to be operating in parallel universes.” National Journal has a nice series on the Committee, for more on the history, politics and on-goings.
- Science Committee’s Rising Status. The House Science Committee doesn’t usually attract a large number of Members vying for spots. Recently, as reported by E&E News, the Committee’s status appears to be climbing among House members. The Science Committee has jurisdiction over a large slice of the non-defense R&D funds, and several important agencies, including NSF, NASA, DOE Office of Science, and NOAA.
Upcoming Congressional Hearings
- Energy Efficiency and Hydropower Bills, April 23, 2013
- National Park Bills, April 23, 2013
- Exploring the Effects of Drought & Energy Management, April 25, 2013
- Public Lands Bills, April 25, 2013
- Financial Literacy Education, April 24, 2013
- Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation, April 22, 2013
- Budget for NOAA and Coast Guard, April 23, 2013
- Human Space Exploration, April 23, 2013
- Senate Appropriations: Multiple Hearings
- Interior: EPA Budget, April 24, 2013
- LHHS: HHS Budget, April 24, 2013
- Energy: NNSA, April 24, 2013
- CJS: NASA, April 25, 2013
- NASA Budget, April 24, 2013
- NEXT Gen Computing and Big Data, April 24, 2013
- Policy and Climate, April 25, 2013
- Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Research, April 26, 2013
- Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families and Taxpayers, April 24, 2013
- Ag: Budget for Natural Resources and Environment, April 24, 2013
- Ag: Budget for Farm and Foreign Ag Services, April 25, 2013
- LHHS: Budget HHS, April 25, 2013
- Interior: Budget for Forest Service, April 26, 2013
- Ag: Budget for FDA, April 26, 2013
Administration & Independent Agencies:
- Nominations and Confirmations.
- Secretary of Energy. The Senate Energy Committee voted to report out Moniz’s nomination favorably. In a vote of 21-1, with only Senator Scott (R-SC) voting no, his confirmation by the Senate is expected to occur without obstacles, possibly this week.
- EPA Administrator. The Senate EPW Committee held a confirmation hearing for EPA nominee Gina McCarthy, the current Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Although EPW has not scheduled a meeting to vote on McCarthy’s nomination, it is expected soon (this week or soon after the recess the week of April 29).
- Sequestration. The impacts of the recently passed Sequestration are set to take affect soon. Agencies are beginning furloughs in an attempt to avoid full layoffs. As reported by ABC News, furloughs begin April 21 for employees at the FAA and EPA, as well as others, while DOD furloughs are delayed until June.
- Science Funding. The President’s Budget Resolution provides strong support for federal R&D. Recently, OSTP Director Holdren testified in front of the House Science Committee – he continued to advocate for strong funding.
- Competency-based Education. ED continues to move forward with acceptance of “competency-based” education that is rooted not in credits earned, but a “mastery” of competencies by allowing financial aid “competency-based” institutions. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that ED approved federal financial aid for students at Southern New Hampshire University in a new online program that is self-paces.
- Ag & FAA. USDA & FAA announced that they are continuing their joint work with partners from the commercial aviation sector to develop biofuel for the aviation industry. According to the release, “the federal government and its partners hope to support the annual production of 1 billion gallons of drop in aviation biofuel by 2018.”
- Geothermal. As the push for renewables continues by DOE, the Department announced the first connection to the electricity grid by a commercial enhanced geothermal system. The project is based in Nevada.
- EPA Carbon Rules. A group of States filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for failing to meet a deadline for issuing a proposal on new power plants carbon dioxide emissions, as reported by Reuters. The new rules will require new power plants to limit emission to 1,000 lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. That rate, which is similar to natural gas plants, is not feasible for new coal-fired plants, generating significant opposition from Members from states rich in coal. EPA has yet to provide a date for the final rule.
- Dry Cask Storage. DOE announced plans for a five-year $16 million research project on spent nuclear reactor fuel storage in dry casks. As reported in Electric Light & Power, the project will be managed by the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit industry-backed research group and focus on cask technology for spent fuels from commercial plants.
- R&D Data. NSF released the latest update R&D in the form of the National Patterns of R&D Resources: 2010-11 Data Update. The data “describes and analyzes the current patterns of research and development performance and funding in the United States, with comparisons to the historical record and the reported R&D levels of other industrialized countries.”
- Greenhouse Gas Inventory. EPA released its 18th Annual US Greenhouse Gas Inventory showing a 1.6 percent decrease in 2011 from 2010. According to the release, “recent trends can be attributed to multiple factors including reduced emissions from electricity generation, improvements in fuel efficiency in vehicles with reductions in miles traveled, and year-to-year changes in the prevailing weather.”
- Myriad. As reported in prior postings of Federal Policy Week, including Moving Forward, the Supreme Court heard arguments on patenting of human genes. As reported by The New York Times, appeared to struggle with a means to rule on this important and potentially-industry transforming decision.
- Concealed Records. In a blow to keep conservations with former members of the Irish Republican Army concealed, Boston College researchers’ appeal to the US Supreme Court was denied. The decision upholds a prior decision requiring the researchers to release some of the interviews. Another federal Appeals Court still must rule on additional material from separate interviews, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Texas and Math. A new movement in Texas to reduce or eliminate testing continues to grow steam. In addition, a new effort is underway to eliminate the requirement of Algebra II for high school graduation. As reported in The New York Times, the Texas House has already passed the bill eliminating Algebra II as a degree requirement, as well as reduced tests and other requirements. The bill’s prospects in the Texas Senate are unclear. As we have seen from the rise in testing, Texas’ approach to public education can impact the national debate.
- Energy & Climate Policy. Will energy and climate policy advance this Congress? Here’s the take from National Journal, which provides two opposing views on the prospects for energy and climate policy.
IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER
Upcoming Events (listed by date):
- ITIF, Is Technology Responsible for American Job Loss? June 13, 2013