From the Hill

From the Hill

President Bush signs competitiveness bill

On August 9, President Bush signed into law the bipartisan America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), aimed at bolstering basic research and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to ensure the nation’s continued economic competitiveness. Despite signing the bill, however, the president expressed concerns about some of its provisions and said he would not support funding some of its authorized spending.

The passage of H.R. 2272 culminates two years of advocacy by the scientific, business, and academic communities, as well as by key members of Congress, sparked by the release of the 2005 National Academies’ report Rising Above the Gathering Storm.

The legislation, which incorporates many prior bills, authorizes $33.6 billion in new spending ($44.3 billion in total) in fiscal years (FY) 2008, 2009, and 2010 for a host of programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Department of Education. It puts NSF and NIST on a track to double their research budgets over three years by authorizing $22.1 billion and $2.65 billion, respectively. It also authorizes $5.8 billion in FY 2010 for DOE’s Office of Science in order to complete the goal of doubling its budget.

The act’s sections on NSF, DOE, and the Department of Education all have significant educational aspects. They are broadly aimed at recruiting more STEM teachers, refining the skills of current teachers and developing master teachers, ensuring that K-12 STEM education programs suitably prepare students for the needs of higher education and the workplace, and enabling more students to participate in effective laboratory and hands-on science experiences.

At NSF, for example, the law expands the Noyce program of scholarships to recruit STEM majors to teaching. DOE’s role in STEM education will be expanded by tapping into the staff expertise and scientific instrumentation at the national laboratories as a resource to provide support, mentoring relationships, and hands-on experiences for students and teachers. The Department of Education will become involved in developing and implementing college courses leading to a concurrent STEM degree and teacher certification.

The act would replace the Advanced Technology Program at the Department of Commerce with the Technology Innovation Program, with the primary goal of funding high-risk, high-reward technology development projects.

It also authorizes DOE to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to conduct high-risk energy research. With authorized funding of $300 million in FY 2008, the new agency is to be housed outside of DOE’s Office of Science, ostensibly to ensure that it does not rob from the Office of Science’s budget.

At the White House signing ceremony, President Bush had kind words in general for the legislation but also said that some of its provisions and expenditures were “unnecessary and misguided.”

Noting that the legislation shares many of the goals of his American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), such as doubling funding for basic research in the physical sciences and increasing the number of teachers and students participating in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, he said, “ACI is one of my most important domestic priorities because it provides a comprehensive strategy to help keep America the most innovative nation in the world by strengthening our scientific education and research, improving our technological enterprise, and providing 21st-century job training.”

But he said he was disappointed that Congress failed to authorize his Adjunct Teacher Corps program to encourage math and science professionals to teach in public schools, and he criticized 30 new programs that he said were mostly duplicative or counterproductive, including ARPA-E, whose mission, he said, would be more appropriately left to the private sector.

Bush also said the legislation provides excessive funding authority for new and existing programs, adding that, “I will request funding in my 2009 budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in this bill.”

Among those at the signing ceremony were congressional leaders who were key to shepherding the bill through Congress, including Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, who said, “I am very concerned that the next generation of Americans can be the first generation to inherit a national standard of living less than their parents if we don’t do something. This bill will help turn that corner.”

Climate bills address competitiveness concerns

Several bills have been introduced in the Senate aimed at alleviating concerns about the potential impact that addressing climate change could have on U.S. economic competitiveness.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the Low Carbon Economy Act of 2007 (S. 1766) on July 11. It features a cap-and-trade system with targets to reduce greenhouse gases to 2006 levels by 2020 and 1990 levels by 2030. The bill encourages the development and deployment of CCS technology with a system of bonus emissions credits for companies that implement the technology.

S. 1766 contains provisions on international engagement meant to assuage critics of climate policies that do not include growing emitters such as China and India. The bill requires that the United States attempt to negotiate an agreement with other nations to take “comparable action” to address climate change. Beginning in 2020, the bill allows the president to require importers from countries that are not taking action to submit emission allowances for certain high-carbon products such as cement. Prices for these “international reserve allowances,” which would constitute a separate pool from domestic allowances, would be equal to those for domestic allowances, fulfilling a key tenant of trade law that tariffs be applied equally to domestic and foreign products.

The bill also attempts to limit costs by incorporating a cap on the price of emissions, referred to in the bill as a technology-accelerator payment but known to many as a safety valve. The price starts at $12 per ton of carbon and rises at a rate of 5% above inflation annually. A safety valve has been embraced by many in industry for providing price certainty, but criticized by economists and environmentalists who say it interferes with the power of the market and may also prohibit linkages with other international trading schemes.

Sens. John Warner (R-VA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Lindsey Graham (RSC), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) are using a different tactic to limit the costs of climate change legislation in a proposal Warner called “an emergency off ramp.” Their bill, Containing and Managing Climate Change Costs Efficiently Act (S. 1874), would create a Carbon Market Efficiency Board, modeled on the Federal Reserve Board, to regulate the market for carbon allowances. When prices are sustained above a certain threshold, the board could effectively reduce prices by borrowing credits from future years to expand the number of carbon permits available. The bill does not contain targets or timetables for greenhouse gas reductions, as sponsors intended for the proposal to be incorporated into a broader cap-and-trade proposal.

Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection, ensured that the carbon market board provision would be included in at least one bill when he and Subcommittee Chair Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) incorporated it into the climate bill they plan to introduce in the fall of 2007. The America’s Climate Security Act will include provisions to establish a Carbon Market Efficiency Board, as well as provisions from the Bingaman/Specter bill to encourage other countries to address climate change. The draft calls for cuts in greenhouse gas emission of 70% below 2005 levels by 2050. Initially, 24% of the credits would be auctioned, with that amount rising to 52% in 2035. The auction would be run by a new Climate Change Credit Corporation and the proceeds used to promote new technology, encourage CCS, mitigate the effects of climate change on wildlife and oceans, and provide relief measures for poor nations.

Confrontation looms on R&D budget

The Senate and House are poised to add billions of dollars above the president’s budget request to the FY 2008 R&D budget, with much of the proposed new funding targeted for environmental, energy, and biomedical initiatives, according to an August 6 report by the R&D Budget and Policy Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Congressional funding proposals also would meet or exceed the president’s spending plans for physical sciences research in the president’s ACI and for dramatic expansion of spending to develop new craft for human space exploration, said Kei Koizumi, the program’s director.

Whereas the White House proposed a budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1 that would have cut overall basic and applied research investment for the fourth straight year, Congress would increase research budgets at every major nondefense R&D agency. And with Congress exceeding the president’s overall domestic spending plan by $21 billion, there is the possibility of a budget conflict that could extend into FY 2008.“Because the president has threatened to veto any appropriations bills that exceed his budget request, these R&D increases could disappear or diminish this fall in negotiations between the president and Congress over final funding levels,” Koizumi concluded. Koizumi noted that earmarks— funds designated by Congress to be spent on a specific project rather than for an agency’s general policy agenda— account for one-fifth of the proposed new R&D spending.

According to the report, the House has approved all 12 of its 2008 appropriations bills; the Senate Appropriations Committee has drafted 11 of its 12 bills, but the full Senate has approved only the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate still must draft a spending bill for DOD. In all, appropriations approved by the House total $144.3 billion for R&D, $3.2 billion or 2.3% more than the current budget and $4 billion more than the White House 2008 budget proposal. The Senate would spend $500 million more on R&D than the House for the appropriations it has drafted.

Based on action thus far, Koizumi summarized congressional moves in several critical science and technology areas:

Energy: DOE’s energy-related R&D initiatives had received significant increases in 2007, but the Bush administration requested cuts for 2008. Congress would keep increasing DOE energy R&D spending dramatically, by 18.5% in the House to $1.8 billion and 29% to $2 billion in the Senate for the renewable energy, fossil fuels, and energy conservation programs, Koizumi reported.

Environment and climate change: Congress would turn steep requested cuts into increases for environmental research programs. Total R&D spending on environmental initiatives would rise 9.2% under House measures, compared to a 3% cut proposed by the administration. NOAA R&D, for example, would get a 9.9% increase in the House and 18.1% in the Senate. Among other prospective winners: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the U.S. Geological Survey; and NASA. Some of the proposed funding for NASA would go to address concerns expressed by the National Research Council, the AAAS Board of Directors, and others that the number of Earth-observing sensors on NASA spacecraft could plunge in the years ahead if current NASA budget trends continue.

Biomedical advances: Lawmakers in both chambers would add more than $1 billion to the White House’s spending plan for the NIH budget, turning a proposed cut into an increase. But both the House and Senate would direct a significant part of that increase to the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS. As a result, the House plan would give most NIH institutes and centers raises of 1.5 to 1.7%, well short of the 3.7% rate of inflation expected next year in the biomedical fields; the institutes and centers would get 2.3 to 2.5% raises under the Senate bills.

STEM education: In addition to their support of STEM education measures in the ACI and America COMPETES act, lawmakers would add significantly to NSF education programs. NSF’s Education and Human Resources budget, after years of steep budget cuts, would soar 18% in the House and 22% in the Senate. Overall NSF R&D spending was cut in 2005 and 2006 but would jump to a record $4.9 billion in FY 2008 under both House and Senate plans.

NASA: After a decade of flat funding, overall NASA R&D funding would jump 9.8% under the House plan and 8.4% in the Senate. Both chambers would endorse large requested increases for the International Space Station facilities project and the $3.1 billion Constellation Systems development project to replace the Space Shuttle and carry humans toward the moon.

Energy bills face veto threat

After a contentious debate, the House passed two energy bills on August 4, but the bills will now have to be reconciled with a Senate bill that has different provisions and will face a veto from President Bush, who said the bills “are not serious attempts to increase our energy security or address high energy costs.”

The House approved the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 3221) and the highly contested Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act (H.R. 2776). H.R. 3221, the broader energy package promised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, includes a renewable electricity standard but does not include higher corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. H.R. 2776, a $16 billion bill that has received much criticism, increases tax incentives for renewable energy by reducing existing incentives for the oil and gas industries. The two bills were rolled into one after their passage under the rule for floor debate.

The House managed to push the speaker’s broad energy bill through with a vote of 241 to 172. The legislation’s star provision is a renewable electricity standard, which mandates that utilities produce 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Utilities will be allowed to meet some of that requirement with energy efficiency measures. Originally, the standard was pegged at 20%, but it was reduced to 15% after many members noted that it might be difficult for some states with limited renewable sources to meet the requirement. The mandate does not apply to rural electric cooperatives and municipalities.

H.R. 2776 was intentionally kept separate from the broader energy package because of its doubtful acceptance on the House floor. The legislation ran into staunch opposition from the White House, Republicans, and oil-state Democrats immediately after being introduced, because it reduces tax incentives for the oil and gas industries in order to pay for renewable energy sources. A similar Senate package failed last month, but the House bill passed 221 to 189 with 11 Democrats defecting and 9 Republicans voting yes.

The conference between the House and Senate to reconcile the different bills will be a challenge. For example, the Senate bill includes a higher CAFE standard but not a renewable fuel standard. The Senate bill also includes provisions to increase ethanol and alternative fuel production, but the House bill does not.

Senators agreed to increase the CAFE standard from the current level of 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and 22.5 mpg for light trucks to 35 mpg per fleet by 2020. The Senate bill mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, a more than sevenfold increase from 2006 levels. In response to concerns about the environmental and economic effects of corn-derived ethanol, 21 billion gallons of this standard must be met with “advanced” biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.

Proposals to fund coal-to-liquid technology were defeated by Democrats, who are opposed to supporting a fuel that would emit more carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline. However, measures to increase funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) R&D were incorporated.

The Senate did not include language from a tax package prepared by the Finance Committee, though it may be inserted when the bill goes to conference. The tax package, worth $32.2 billion, would create incentives and subsidies for conservation and alternative energy, including clean coal technologies, CCS, cellulosic ethanol, and wind power. These programs would be funded by raising taxes and eliminating tax breaks now available to the oil industry. Many opposing the tax package said it would raise the cost of oil and gas production at a time when it is already unmanageable.


“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.