A VERY BAD BILL

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:  A Very Bad Proposal – High Quality Research Act.

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

CONGRESS: Nuclear Waste Bill; Immigration; Farm Bill, Helium; Higher Education Act; Congressional Hearings.

ADMINISTRATION & INDEPENDENT AGENCIES:  Nominations and Confirmations; EPA and Power Plants; EPA on Keystone; ESA and Wolves; ED and Grant Cuts; Testing

COURTS: EPA Wins – Revoking Bad Permits

Noteworthy News: Energy Storage Technology; Common Core Attack; Americans and Climate; Obama’s Environmental Record; Federal Funding of Universities; School Reform Realities; Humanities PhDs; Hydrofracking and Water; Fusion

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

Capitol News.  

In first steps for reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which added new programs like ARPA-E and aimed to double funding for several science agencies of an approximate seven-year period, the House Science Committee Republicans floated a draft bill, the High Quality Research Act (HQRA).  The HQRA would fundamentally alter the peer-review scientific granting system, first at NSF and then the other science agencies, by requiring an extra layer of “political” review by agency directors who certify that any funded research:

(1) is in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science; (2) is the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and (3) is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.

The HQRA, which followed a recent attack on funding for political science funding by NSF that survived in the final funding bill for fiscal year 2013 (see Federal Policy Week posting Money Makes Washington Go Around) goes further by expanding to all science funding.  Chairman Smith (R-TX) continues to take a critical view of NSF funding for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate (see Federal Policy Week posting Congress Finishes Recess section on House Committee’s Views and Estimates) or funding that he doesn’t characterize as “hard science.” In anticipation of these attacks and the reauthorization of COMPETES, a group of original supporters of COMPETES, including Norm Augustine, released a set of Principles.  The Principles call on Congress to provide increased funding for major research agencies, in all research disciplines; maintain and strengthen the science pipeline, sustain peer review and eliminate unnecessary regulations.

In response to the HQRA and a letter Chairman Smith sent a letter to NSF Director Marrett questioning some grants and demanding detailed explanations, Ranking Member Johnson (D-TX) sent a scathing letter to Chairman Smith criticizing his approach as undermining research and the Committee.  Chairman Smith defended the universal panning of the bill by claiming it helps NSF prioritize funding. For more background on the events that transpired see Inside Higher Ed.

President Obama, in a speech celebrating 150 years of the National Academies of Sciences, he stated, in what is seen as a rebuke against Republican efforts to politicize science,

I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us.  And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences. 

CONGRESS

  • Nuclear Waste. As mentioned in the Federal Policy Week posting Energy Innovation, the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Energy authorizing and appropriations committees continue to tackle nuclear waste issues.  Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Alexander (R-TN), Wyden (D-OR), and Murkowski (R-AK) released a draft nuclear waste bill in an attempt to reach a long-term, consent-based solution to the nuclear waste bill.  The legislation would create a new nuclear waste administration and an “integrated storage and repository system” to address both commercial and defense waste. Comments on the legislation are accepted until May 24, 2013.
  • Immigration.  Now that the bipartisan group in the Senate has released its immigration blueprint and there has been some movement in the House (see Federal Policy Week posting Immigration), the House Judiciary Committee plans to introduce several pieces of immigration legislation in a slower, more piecemeal approach, as described in Chairman Goodlatte’s (R-VA) response to the Senate proposal. Senator Rubio (R-FL), a conservative member of the bipartisan Senate group pushing for reform acknowledged that the Senate plan is likely DOA in the House.  Former Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) has joined the debate, pushing for immigration reform, based on economic issues, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.  Senator Majority Leader Reid has vowed to push through immigration reform, hoping to get a bill through the full Senate by July 4.
  • Farm Bill.  The Agriculture Committees have announced plans to move a farm bill this year.  Senator Stabenow (D-MI) plans to start with a mark-up of the Senate-passed bill from last Congress in May and Majority Leader Reid plans to take up the Senate bill in June.  The House plans to mark up its farm bill on May 15. Chairman Lucas plans to cut an additional $3 billion more from last years farm programs for a total savings of $38 billion. This misguided approach cuts from important conservation and food programs instead of bloated commodity programs.
  • Horary for HeliumThe House unanimously (almost – the one no voter said it was an accident) passed the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 257) legislation that enables the Department of the Interior to sell helium from the Federal Helium Reserve to prevent a global shortage. The bill would establish “semi-annual auctions and establishes a three-phase plan to sell off the remaining helium in the Reserve.” More information on the Reserve and the Act is available at the House Natural Resources Committee site. The Senate Energy Committee plans a hearing on May 7, 2013.
  • Higher Education.  Congress is moving forward with reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).  The House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Miller (D-CA) called on the public to provide input on HEA reauthorization.  The Committee letter, also signed by the Higher Education Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Member, asks stakeholders to provide feedback on many issues including, improving student aid programs, increasing college affordability and completion, and promoting innovation and improving access to higher education, by August 2, 2013.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

Senate Energy:

Senate EPW:

Senate Commerce:

Senate Appropriations:

House Science

House Energy

House Appropriations

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Nominations and Confirmations.
  1. Secretary of Energy.  The Senate Energy Committee voted to report out Moniz’s nomination favorably.  Senator Graham (R-SC) continues to have a hold on his nomination over a nuclear fuel facility based in his state.
  2. EPA Administrator. The Senate EPW Committee plans to hold a vote on the confirmation of EPA nominee Gina McCarthy on May 9, 2013 (see above).  Expect a party-line vote.
  3. Commerce Secretary. Penny Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt family fortune and Chicago resident was nominated to be Secretary of Commerce.
  • EPA and Power Plants.  EPA announced proposed rules to address water discharge from coal power plants.  The rules would not begin to be phased in until 2017, reports The Washington Post. The water from these plants constitutes a major pollutant of our Nation’s waterways.
  • EPA on Keystone.  In a cross-agency dispute, EPA took aim at the State Department’s environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline.  EPA, according to The New York Times, criticized the State report for failing to fully consider the impacts of climate change or look at alternative pipeline routes.
  • ESA and Wolves.  In a dramatic setback to the Endangered Species Act and the survival of gray wolves, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to remove species protection. As reported in The LA Times, Western officials, hunters and livestock owners have lead the charge to remove ESA listing. Now, the fate of the wolves will be left to the states, many of which our hostile to their survival.  However, as the article states “scientists and conservationists who reviewed the plan said its reasoning is flawed.”
  • ED and Grant CutsEDannounced that two education grants would be cut as a result of sequestration, including TEACH Grants which would be cut by 7.1 percent.  TEACH grants provide grants of up to $4,000 a year to students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching.  To be eligible, you must agree to teach in “a high-need field at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves students from low-income families for at least four complete academic years within eight years after completing (or ceasing enrollment in) the course of study for which you received the grant.”
  • Testing.  A recent spade of rebukes against testing has put ED Secretary Duncan on the defense.  In a recent speech, he defended testing vigorously and championed the Common Core curriculum, pushing for more research on assessments.

COURTS:

  • EPA and Mining Permits.  The conservative US Court of Appeals for DC Circuit ruled unanimously that the EPA could retroactively revoke a mining permit using authority granted in the Clean Water Act.  As reported in The New York Times, EPA vetoed a permit granted by the Bush Administration that allowed dumping of mining waste into rivers and streams in West Virginia.

NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

  • Energy Storage Technologies.  Energy Storage remains a key factor in advancing renewable energy, and this is true for hydropower.  As reported in Roll Call, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Wyden, has embraced the promise of pumped storage, which holds water in a reservoir as a form of energy.
  • Common Core Attacks.  Despite a generally enthusiastic call for testing, some Republicans are beginning to question the wisdom of the Common Core State Standards, reports The Washington Post.  For example, Senator Grassley (R-IA) is moving forward with an effort to eliminate federal funding for the Core.  More over, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution strongly rejecting elements of the Core and calling for repeal of some regulations.
  • Americans and Climate Change.  As reported in The Washington Post, most Americans do not see climate change as an immediate threat or top priority.  And, Americans are split on the causes of change, with a breakdown based on party affiliation.
  • Obama’s Environmental Record.  How good is President Obama’s environmental record?  The Washington Post attempts to sum it up with a list of actions he has taken (ocean management, vehicle emissions), is in the middle of taking (greenhouse gas emissions from plants) and may not do (Keystone XL pipeline).
  • Federal Funding of Universities.  Which universities get the most federal R&D money?  Johns Hopkins, with the Applied Physics Lab, leads the pack with $1.88 billion in federal R&D.  Next is University of Washington at Seattle and rounding out the top five are University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh.
  • School Reform Realities.  We have head quite a bit about the successful school reforms in three major metropolitan areas: New York, Chicago, and DC.  The success has fueled many foundations and federal policy.  In a critical look at the three cities in a report by A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education finds that “reforms delivered few benefits and in some cases harm the students they purport to help.”
  • Humanities PhDs.  Given the difficult market for academic positions in the humanities, most PhDs should consider non-Academic options.  As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the Scholarly Communication Institute at UVA surveyed graduates not pursuing faculty positions and found more needs to be done to bring career expectations in alignment with realistic options and to provide more guidance and training for non-academic careers.
  • Hydrofracking and Water.  In a new twist on hyrdofracking complications, Western states are may find significant strains on water resources reports The New York Times. A new report by the group Ceres found “that a significant portion of this activity is happening in water stressed regions of the United States… It concludes that industry efforts underway, such as expanded use of recycled water and non-freshwater resources, need to be scaled up along with better water management planning if shale energy production is to grow as projected.”
  • Fusion.  The debate over fusion’s future is long-standing.  Always seen as the energy of the future, just a few decades down the road.  Great progress has been made in recent years.  Bloomberg provides an article on the ups, downs, and future of fusion energy.

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

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5 thoughts on “A VERY BAD BILL

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