From the Hill


by

From the Hill

Major bills to boost U.S. competitiveness advance

Congress appears poised to approve major legislation to boost U.S. economic competitiveness, with Senate approval of the America COMPETES Act (S. 761) and House passage of the 21st Century Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2272). Although there are major overlaps in the two bills, there are also differences that must be worked out in conference. Also, if a joint measure is finally approved, it is unclear whether appropriators will be able to find the money in a tight budget to fund the increases in spending that the bills authorize. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has expressed concern about the “dramatic increases” in authorized funding levels in the bills.

H.R. 2272 bundles together a number of bills previously approved by the House, including a bill that would put the National Science Foundation (NSF) on track to double its budget in 10 years by authorizing increased funding during the next three years. NSF would be authorized to spend $21 billion during the fiscal years 2008 to 2010; $16.4 billion would be for research and $2.8 billion for education programs.

H.R. 2272 also includes the Sowing the Seeds through Science and Engineering Research Act (H.R. 363), which would allow NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide grants worth up to $80,000 a year to scientists and engineering researchers in the early stages of their careers. In addition, the 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act (H.R. 362) authorizes more than $600 million over five years for NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program for college students studying math and science who would like to pursue a teaching career. Eligible students would receive annual scholarships of $10,000 and would be obligated to teach at an elementary or secondary school for four years after graduation. The bill also requires the NSF director to establish a national panel of experts “to identify, collect, and recommend” K-12 math and science teaching materials that have proven effective.

H.R. 2272 authorizes increases in the budget of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) over three years, putting the agency on a path to doubling its budget in 10 years. NIST would receive a total of $2.5 billion during fiscal years 2008 to 2010. NIST’s beleaguered Advanced Technology Program (ATP) would be renamed the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) and continue to allow national laboratories and universities to develop partnerships with industry and compete for program grants. TIP would be authorized at $400 million in fiscal year 2008. The Bush administration favors eliminating ATP.

The Senate’s America COMPETES bill (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act) would double NSF’s budget by fiscal year (FY) 2011, put DOE’s Office of Science on track to double its budget in 10 years, and boost research at NIST laboratories. It would create an Advanced Research Projects Authority-Energy (ARPA-E) at DOE, similar to the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program at the Department of Defense. It expands funding for the Noyce Scholarship Program and invests in a range of education programs that range from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses for high-school students to graduate fellowship programs.

However, the COMPETES bill also funds a host of other agency education programs that the House bill does not. For example, it funds grants for teacher training, Math Now programs, and foreign language education. It also includes provisions that touch a broader range of agencies. For example, although it does not authorize specific funding levels for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it does state that the agencies should be an integral part of the federal innovation strategy. Furthermore, it calls on NASA to create a Basic Research Council and coordinate with NSF, DOE, and the Department of Commerce on physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics basic research. The legislation also requests that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy hold another innovation summit and that the National Academy of Sciences conduct a study on barriers to innovation.

Although both chambers have made innovation and competitiveness a priority and have outlined their visions of how best to establish a national response, whether they will be able to reach a compromise during the conference process remains to be seen.

Support grows for capping and trading carbon emissions

Support appears to be growing in Congress for introducing a cap-and-trade system for limiting greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Recently, the debate has focused on how such a system would be structured.

At a February 28 House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Pew Center on Global Climate Change President Eileen Claussen said that many industry representatives prefer a cap-and-trade system to a tax because carbon prices are set by the market. Leaders from the utility industry also supported an economy-wide national cap-and-trade program during a March 20 House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing. Witnesses stressed the need for meaningful timelines that depend on technological availability and recommended that most of the reductions take place down the road. They agreed that a cap-and-trade system should contain a limit on the price of emissions (in effect, a safety valve), a feature opposed by many environmentalists.

Other recommendations for the structure of a cap-and trade program came during other hearings in the Senate and the House. In these hearings, lessons from existing programs, including the European trading scheme for greenhouse gases and the U.S. acid rain program, focused on key themes such as keeping a system simple, transparent, long-term, and accountable. In more specific terms, witnesses discussed how the setup of a program would affect the distribution of the cost, looking at factors such as how allowances are distributed, who receives the permits, whether they are provided by auction or gratis, and how baseline levels are calculated. Witnesses also agreed that unrestricted trading and the ability to transfer credits across time periods (the banking of allowances) cuts down on price volatility.

Those in favor of cap-and-trade programs have several new proposals to consider. In mid-April, Sens. Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced two similar multi-pollutant bills that deal with emissions, including carbon dioxide, from power plants. The bills have similar goals for reducing emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. Although the two senators had cosponsored a similar bill in 2006, they disagree on how to establish baselines for emissions. Carper’s bill bases credits on how much energy is produced, whereas Alexander focuses on the amount of fuel historically used by the power plant.

Carper’s bill, the Clean Air Planning Act of 2007, limits carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to 2006 levels by 2012 and to 2001 levels by 2015, and then reduces them 1% annually from 2016 to 2019 and 1.5% percent annually beginning in 2020. Carper’s bill would phase in a system in which some pollution credits would be auctioned, with a move to an entirely auction-based system by 2036. The bill would provide incentives to bring new clean coal technologies on line. It also allows companies to purchase “offsets” of their emissions from other sectors of the economy, with large opportunities projected for agricultural offsets.

Alexander’s Clean Air/Climate Change Act of 2007 differs in its allocation of permits, with 75% of the allowance allocated based on historical emissions and 25% sold in an auction. The bill would freeze emissions at the 2006 level starting in 2011 and go down gradually to 1.5 billion metric tons in 2025.

In the House, more than 120 members joined Rep. Henry Waxman (DCA) to introduce H.R. 1590, the Safe Climate Act of 2007, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill establishes an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that would effectively freeze greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, cut emissions by roughly 2% a year until reaching 1990 levels by 2020, and then cut emissions by 5% a year after 2020. Proceeds from the auctioning of allowances would be dedicated to supporting new energy technology R&D, compensating consumers for increases in energy costs, providing transition assistance for affected workers, and supporting adaptation projects.

Although economists have touted the efficiency of a carbon tax, few in Congress appear willing to support a new tax of any kind. However, two proposals for such a tax were made recently.

Rep. Peter Stark (D-CA), a longtime supporter of carbon taxes, introduced the Save Our Climate Act on April 26. The bill would levy a tax of $10 per ton of carbon content on coal, petroleum, and natural gas at the point at which they are initially removed from the ground or imported into the United States. The tax would increase by $10 each year, freezing when a mandated report by the Internal Revenue Service and DOE determined that carbon dioxide emissions had decreased by 80% from 1990 levels.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) brought the issue of a carbon tax to the presidential campaign trail in April. The centerpiece of Dodd’s energy proposal, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, is a corporate carbon tax that would produce $50 billion annually in revenues to fund research, development, and production of renewable energy technologies. Dodd said he supports cap-and-trade systems, as do many of the other presidential candidates, but in combination with a tax.

Bill to establish national ocean policy falters

Several years after the completion of two landmark reports on the oceans, comprehensive ocean policy legislation finally received hearings in the House, but it is not ready to sail through just yet. Although most members and witnesses supported more coordinated management of the oceans at the March 29 and April 26 hearings of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans, many expressed concern about possible negative, unintended consequences of the bill’s provisions.

H.R. 21, the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act (OCEANS-21), was introduced on the first day of the 110th Congress by Rep. Sam Farr (DCA) and other members of the House Oceans Caucus. During the March hearing, Admiral James Watkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, noted that this is the only bill to establish a national ocean policy. The legislation, which has been introduced several times previously, seeks to establish a National Oceans Adviser for the president and federal advisory bodies on ocean policy, as well as codify a Committee on Ocean Policy and a Council of Advisors on Oceans Policy. The bill calls for improved federal agency coordination of ocean resources, support of regional ocean governance, and establishment of an ocean trust fund.

The bill would also codify the functions of NOAA, a key recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission. OCEANS-21 creates an undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and makes that person the administrator of NOAA.

At the hearing, some witnesses expressed concern about the provisions in OCEANS-21 that would judge federal actions by whether they would “significantly harm” the health of a marine ecosystem or “significantly impede” restoration. They feared this language would make federal agencies vulnerable to lawsuits and add another layer of review that would make it more difficult for scientists to undertake research. Witnesses also questioned possible conflicts between provisions in the bill that establish regional partnerships and the fishery councils that were codified during last year’s reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens fisheries bill.

On the Senate side, the Commerce Committee easily passed a similarly titled—but different—bill, the Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act (OCEAN ACT, S.39), by voice vote on February 13. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), is similar to a bill passed by the Senate last year. It authorizes a little more than $1 billion for ocean exploration, research, and mapping during the next decade. Highlights include interdisciplinary ocean voyages to survey little-known areas of the marine environment; the development of new undersea technologies; and a focus on ocean exploration in deep sea regions, the location of historic shipwrecks and submerged sites, and public education programs. The bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Senate committee approves energy package

In a 20-3 vote in early May, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill (the Energy Savings Act, S. 1321) aimed at reducing oil consumption by 20% in 10 years through a combination of advanced biofuels, improved efficiency, and carbon capture and storage technologies. However, its Senate passage was called into question when Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a similar bill that has garnered more support from the environmental community.

S. 1321 would increase biofuels investments by 50% during the next two years. R&D investments would emphasize advanced biofuels derived from non-corn biomass. The bill mandates a renewable fuel standard that requires the nation to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 and provides industries with various incentives and loan guarantees to meet this target.

The bill would also set new standards for energy-efficient equipment, establish fuel-saving targets, and strengthen federal energy efficiency requirements. The proposed efficiency standards are expected to save more than 50 billion kilowatt-hours per year and require the federal government to curb its energy use. The bill authorizes competitive grants for energy-efficiency research and encourages the development of vehicle-efficiency technologies.

The bill would increase carbon capture and storage R&D funding, authorizing up to $120 million to improve these technologies and conduct assessments of potential storage sites and capacities in the Unites States. It directs DOE to research the risk that carbon dioxide would leak from storage sites. The bill extends seven regional carbon capture and storage partnerships involving industry, academia, and all levels of government that are now slated for expiration in 2009, and it authorizes large-scale demonstration plants to improve carbon capture and injection technologies.

In approving the bill, the Energy and Natural Resources committee managed to sidestep, at least for now, some strong support in the Senate for a controversial proposal: funding technology to convert abundant coal reserves to liquid fuel for transportation. The issue will probably reemerge when energy legislation is debated on the Senate floor.

The day after the energy bill was approved, Sen. Boxer introduced her bill, the Advanced Clean Fuels Act of 2007 (S. 1297), which would increase renewable fuel production to 35 billion gallons by 2025. Like S. 1321, a fuel would have to emit at least 20% less greenhouse gas than conventional gasoline in order to qualify under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard. However, Boxer’s bill would eventually increase the standard to at least 75% less greenhouse gas emission. S. 1297 also gives more attention to environmental management practices of renewable fuels production, including sustainable land use, bringing it broad support from the environmental community.

Congress boosts budget spending limit, despite veto threat

Congress on May 17 approved a FY 2008 budget resolution that would boost funding for nondefense programs, including R&D, by $21 billion above President Bush’s budget request. The vote sets in motion a possible confrontation with the president, who has threatened to veto appropriations bills that exceed his request.

The additional $21 billion would allow nondefense programs overall to increase slightly ahead of inflation, instead of declining as in the president’s request. Given that federal R&D investments have historically been roughly one out of every seven dollars in discretionary spending, the budget resolution could mean $3 billion or so more than the president’s request for R&D programs.

The additional $21 billion could go a long way toward turning steep requested cuts for R&D into flat funding or increases. The president’s budget proposal calls for large increases for three priority programs: research funding in the three physical sciences agencies that make up the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative (NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, and NIST’s laboratories), development funding at NASA for new spacecraft, and development funding for new weapons systems at the Department of Defense.

But within the overall declining nondefense budget, nearly all other R&D programs would see their funding fall in FY 2008, including most environmental research programs, biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even nonpriority funding within priority agencies such as NASA’s research portfolio and NIST’s extramural programs. The budget resolution’s $954 billion total for discretionary spending could allow appropriators to sustain the requested increases for the American Competitiveness initiative, but also to boost funding for NIH and other agencies whose budgets would be cut.


“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center’s bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.

Cite this Article

"From the Hill." Issues in Science and Technology 23, no. 4 (Summer 2007).