From the Hill

Climate change legislation advances

In a major step forward for advocates of climate change action, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on May 21 passed a bill that would create a national cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), approved by a 33 to 25 vote, would set a cap on GHG emissions, which would be reduced over time, and would create permits to emit GHGs, which would be traded in a new market aimed at reducing emissions in the most economically efficient manner. Emissions would have to be reduced 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% below 2005 levels by 2050. Initially, 85% of the emissions permits would be given away and 15% auctioned. The amount of permits auctioned would increase over time. The decision to initially give away most of the permits results from attempts to win the support of moderate Democrats, many of whom come from states with coal-related industry and are worried about the effects of the bill on their local economies.

Although a climate change bill has now passed one committee, it is not clear when and if the legislation will reach the House floor. Eight other committees have claimed jurisdiction over the issue. Nonetheless, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has said that he expects the bill to be on the floor before the July 4 recess.

In another announcement with a potentially major effect on the climate change issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on April 17 that automobile emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. According to the EPA, “In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”

The EPA found that high concentrations of six gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) due to human activities have caused increases in average temperatures and other climate changes. The EPA cited effects that include increases in drought, floods, heat waves, wildfires, sea-level rise, and intense storms, as well as harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife, and ecosystems.

Once finalized, the EPA finding would trigger regulation under the Clean Air Act. Development of these regulations would be conducted through a separate rulemaking process, and no proposed rules are contained in the endangerment finding. The press release accompanying the finding notes the preference of President Obama and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson “for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy,” but EPA will be legally required to act in the absence of such a framework.

FY 2010 budget proposal backs more increases for R&D

President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget proposal includes a 3.6% increase for nondefense R&D and 3.4% increase for basic research. Under the proposal, overall R&D spending would hit $147.6 billion, up 0.4% from FY 2009, excluding the stimulus funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Defense R&D would decline 2%, and applied research would decline by 2.2%.

Agencies slated for significant R&D increases above the FY 2009 estimate (not including ARRA funds) include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), up 10%; the National Science Foundation (NSF), up 9.4%; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), up 15.8%; and the Department of Education, up 18.9%. Some agencies would receive cuts: the Department of Defense (DOD), down 2.4%, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), down 6.32%, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), down 8%.

Some agency highlights:

NSF. With a goal of tripling the number of Graduate Research Fellowships by FY 2013, the administration would increase this program by 6% in FY 2010.

NASA. The Exploration Directorate would receive the biggest increase: $458 million, or 13%, to almost $4 billion, almost all of which is targeted to the Constellation Systems program. Although the R&D budget would rise by 10%, the Science Directorate would see a cut of 0.6%. The Aeronautics Directorate budget would rise by 1.4%.

Department of Energy (DOE). DOE’s R&D portfolio ($10.74 billion) would receive slightly more than 40% of the overall DOE budget, compared to a 32% share in FY 2009. Spending at the Office of Science would rise by 3.5%, with all major areas of research in that office seeing increases. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was first authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007, would receive $10 million for FY 2010, after receiving start-up funding of $400 million from the ARRA and $15 million in the final FY 2009 omnibus appropriation. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would receive a 39.4% increase to just over $2 billion.

Fossil energy programs would be cut 29.5% to $618 million, after being given a $3.4 billion boost in the ARRA. The majority of the ARRA funds would go toward carbon capture and storage and clean coal initiatives, whereas the reduction in the FY 2010 request reflects congressionally designated projects funded in 2009 that will not be continued in 2010. Nuclear energy R&D would be cut by 22% to $403 million in order to allow for an increased focus on renewable energy programs. Funding would be eliminated for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, with some funding redirected to studying alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH’s R&D budget would rise 1.5% to $30.2 billion. A key administration priority is to double funding for cancer research over eight years. The FY 2010 budget request includes a 6% increase to $6 billion. Another priority is research into the causes and treatments of autism spectrum disorders, which would receive $141 million.

NIST. Once targeted for elimination by the Bush administration, two programs would receive generous increases. The budget for the Technology Innovation Program (a descendant of the Advanced Technology Program) would increase 7.5% to almost $70 million, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program would receive almost $125 million, up 13%.

NOAA. The $568 million in R&D spending includes increases in initiatives on ocean acidification, drought early warning, models for decadal climate predictions, and priorities in the Ocean Research Priorities Plan.

DOD. The R&D portfolio would decrease $1.9 billion to $79.7 billion because of the proposed cancellation of a number of weapon programs. DOD’s basic research would remain at the FY 2009 enacted levels for a total request of $1.8 billion, whereas applied research would decrease to $4.25 billion in FY 2010. Medical Research programs at DOD would decline by 32% to $613 million.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The R&D portfolio would increase $29 million to $1.1 billion. The Science and Technology Directorate would receive an overall boost of approximately 4% to $968 million.

USDA. Overall R&D funding would fall 6.2% to $2.3 billion. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said, however, that the decrease stems from congressionally earmarked projects that will not continue in FY 2010. Specific areas of R&D at USDA that will see the largest funding increases include biomass R&D, which would jump 40% to $28 million, and research on organic agriculture, which would rise by 11% to $20 million.

Department of the Interior. R&D activities would receive $730 million in FY 2010, up 5.5%. The largest portion of this total is accounted for by the U.S. Geological Survey, which would receive a 6.4% increase to $649 million. Global Change Science would receive $58.2 million, 43% higher than in FY 2009 and more than double its of FY 2008 budget.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The R&D portfolio would increase 7% to $619 million.

Department of Transportation (DOT). R&D funding would hit $939 million, up 3%. Within DOT, the Engineering, Research, and Development Fund at the Federal Aviation Administration would rise 5.3% to $180 million, and funding for vehicle safety research and highway safety R&D at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would rise by 1.7% to $237 million.

R&D in the FY 2010 Budget by Agency

(budget authority in millions of dollars)

FY 2008 Actual FY 2009 Estimate FY 2009 ARRA* FY 2010 Budget Change FY 09-10
Amount Percent
Total R&D (Conduct and Facilities)

Department of Defense 80,278 81,616 300 79,687 -1,929 -2.4%

Dept. of Health and Human Services 29,265 30,415 11,103 30,936 521 1.7%

Nat’l Institutes of Health 28,547 29,748 10,400 30,184 436 1.5%

All Other HHS R&D 718 667 703 752 85 12.7%

NASA 11,182 10,401 925 11,439 1,038 10.0%

Department of Energy 9,807 10,621 2,446 10,740 119 1.1%

National Science Foundation 4,580 4,857 2,900 5,312 455 9.4%

Department of Agriculture 2,336 2,421 176 2,272 -149 -6.2%

Department of Commerce 1,160 1,292 411 1,330 38 2.9%

NOAA 625 700 1 644 -56 -8.0%

NIST 498 550 410 637 87 15.8%

Department of the Interior 683 692 74 730 38 5.5%

U.S. Geological Survey 586 611 74 649 38 6.2%

Department of Transportation 875 913 0 939 26 2.8%

Environmental Protection Agency 551 580 0 619 39 6.7%

Department of Veterans Affairs 960 1,020 0 1,160 140 13.7%

Department of Education 313 323 0 384 61 18.9%

Department of Homeland Security 995 1,096 0 1,125 29 2.6%

All Other 761 818 0 947 129 15.8%

Total R&D 143,746 147,065 18,335 147,620 555 0.4%

Defense R&D 84,337 85,426 300 83,760 -1,666 -2.0%

Non-defense R&D 59,409 61,639 18,035 63,860 2,221 3.6%

Non-defense R&D excluding NASA 48,227 51,238 17,110 52,421 1,183 2.3%

Basic Research 28,613 29,881 11,365 30,884 1,003 3.4%

Applied Research 27,413 28,766 1,920 28,139 -627 -2.2%

Total Research 56,026 58,647 13,285 59,023 376 0.6%

Development 83,254 83,887 1,408 84,054 167 0.2%

R&D Facilities and Equipment 4,466 4,531 3,642 4,543 12 0.3%

Source: AAAS, based on OMB and OSTP data for R&D for FY 2010, agency budget justifications, and information from agency budget offices.

Note: The projected inflation rate between FY 2009 and FY 2010 is 1.0 percent.

FY 2010 figures exclude pending supplementals.

* Based on preliminary distribution of funding from the American Recoveryand Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5). Figures may change.

NIH releases guidelines for stem cell research

On April 17, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released draft guidelines for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, just over a month after President Obama signed an executive order expanding federal support for the research.

According to the guidelines, NIH would permit funding for research on stem cells derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments, provided that certain conditions are met. Because provisions in annual appropriations bills prevent NIH from funding the destruction or creation of embryos, the actual derivation of the cells must be done in the private sector. In addition, NIH does not plan to fund research on embryos created specifically for research or on stem cells derived by research-cloning techniques or by parthenogenesis (a method that uses unfertilized egg cells). Acting Director Raynard Kington justified the approach by stating that the method approved by NIH has broad public support.

Scientists appeared to be divided in their opinions of the new rules, with some applauding the guidelines as a step forward and others disappointed that they did not allow funding for enough types of research. Obama’s execu tive order mandates that NIH periodically revisit the guidelines.

The guidelines would require strict informed consent provisions that appear to be modeled largely on NIH guidelines from 2000 as well as guidelines devised by the National Academies in 2005. Donors cannot receive money or other incentives for their embryos, and the decision to donate must be free of the influence of researchers and separate from the decision to seek fertility treatments. Researchers and their institutions must provide documentation for several requirements, including that the donor was aware of all options for use of the embryos, that the donor understood what would occur to the embryos in research, and that the donor was not able to direct use of the stem cells to any particular individual’s medical care.

Although virtually all science organizations recognize the importance of informed consent rules, the fact that the specific requirements for the documentation of informed consent have changed over the years has made many groups nervous about the eligibility of stem cell lines that are already in use. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and other groups have asked NIH to grandfather in stem cell lines that met the ethical requirements in place at the time of their derivation, including the lines that were eligible for funding under Bush administration policy.

NASA to review human space flight activities

The White House said it would organize a review of human space flight activities at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and President Obama nominated a new leadership team for the agency.

On May 23, Obama nominated Gen. Charles Bolden as the next administrator of NASA. Bolden, who flew four times on the space shuttle, would be the second astronaut at the helm of the agency and the first African American. The president also nominated former NASA official and campaign adviser Lori Garver as deputy administrator.

On May 7, John Holdren, the president’s science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said an independent review commission will be chaired by Norman Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin chief executive who led a NASA review in 1990. NASA acting administrator Christopher Scolese will name the other members of the panel in consultation with OSTP.

Holdren said the commission would assess how best to support use of the International Space Station and planned missions to the Moon and other destinations; how to stimulate commercial space flight capabilities; and how best to fit NASA exploration activities into the agency’s budget. The panel will also assess the amount of R&D and complementary robotic activity needed for human space flight and evaluate opportunities for missions extending International Space Station operations beyond 2016. It will present its findings by August 2009.

Meanwhile, Scolese testified at three congressional hearings and answered questions about the five-year gap that NASA anticipates between the scheduled retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the advent of a new human spaceflight vehicle. NASA has planned eight more missions before the shuttle is retired, but members of Congress are skeptical that the plan can be completed. After the shuttle’s retirement, the Russian Soyuz vessel will transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station until at least 2015. “There is no Plan B,” Scolese said, noting that in addition to its standard transportation capabilities, the Soyuz could function as an escape vehicle if necessary.

“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science ( 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 25, no. 4 (Summer 2009).

Vol. XXV, No. 4, Summer 2009