COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY RELEASES ASSESSMENT OF FEDERAL REGULATION OF BIOTECHNOLOGY; REQUESTS COMMENTS - On May 3, 2000 the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) were directed to conduct an interagency assessment of Federal environmental regulations pertaining to agricultural biotechnology. On 26 January 2001, CEQ and OSTP announced the availability of the case studies and invited comment.
The assessment was undertaken as part of a larger set of policy measures intended to build consumer confidence and ensure that U.S. regulations keep pace with the latest scientific and product developments. The President directed this assessment to further long-standing goals of public access to information and maintenance of strong, science-based regulation. The assessment was intended to focus on environmental regulations through the use of a set of case studies to describe in detail how specific products are being regulated or how they may potentially be regulated. The focus on environmental regulations was based on the premise that this aspect of biotechnology regulation is not well understood by the public and is the subject of considerable interest. The analysis was not intended to be comprehensive in scope, but rather to be based on a set of case studies that could illuminate current agency practices, identify strengths and potential areas for improvement.
In the intervening months, the assessment produced a set of working documents that provide rich detail and information on specific case studies for the public and for policymakers. However, due to time limitations, the interagency working group that was assembled to conduct the assessment was not able to conduct the analysis necessary to develop conclusions or recommendations. The selection of these particular case studies in no way indicates specific concerns with previous regulatory findings. In fact, no significant negative environmental impacts have been associated with the use of any previously approved biotechnology product.
Written comments should be submitted on or before May 1, 2001 to Chair, Council on Environmental Quality and Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy; Executive Office of the President, 17th and G Streets, NW., Washington, DC 20500. Attention: CEQ/OSTP Biotechnology Assessment. Specifically, based on the initial review of the case studies, public comment is requested in the following broad areas of overall federal regulation of environmental aspects of biotechnology: (a) Comprehensiveness and rigor of environmental assessment; (b)
comprehensiveness and strength of statutory authority; (c) transparency of the environmental assessment and the decisionmaking process; (d) public involvement; (e) interagency coordination; (f) confidential business information.
It is not known how the Bush administration will make use of this assessment.
Requests for copies of the report may be directed to CEQ and OSTP at the above address or may be requested by calling CEQ at (202) 395-5750 or OSTP at (202) 456-6130. The report also appears on CEQ's website at www.whitehouse.gov/ceq and on OSTP's website at www.ostp.gov.
BOEHLERT TO HEAD HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE; 1/31/01 SPEECH; CHIEF OF STAFF OF COMMITTEE TO SPEAK AT AIBS ANNUAL MEETING - Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was named chair of the House Science Committee. The January 4 announcement was greeted happily by scientists. In a 31 January 2001 speech to the Universities Research Association, Boehlert said he wants to build the Science Committee into a significant force within the Congress and to ensure that we have a healthy, sustainable, and productive R&D establishment one that educates students, increases human knowledge, strengthens U.S. competitiveness and contributes to the well-being of the nation and the world. With those goals in mind, he intends to concentrate initially on three priorities * science and math education, * energy policy and * the environment -- three areas in which the resources and expertise of the scientific enterprise must be brought to bear on issues of national significance. The text of Rep. Boehlert's 1/31 speech is online at http://www.house.gov/science
On 26 January 2001, Boehlert officially announced his top staff on the House Committee on Science. Heading up the staff will be David Goldston, who was Boehlert's Legislative Director before moving to the Committee on Jan. 8. Goldston had served on the Science Committee staff previously; from 1985 to 1994, he was on the professional staff of the Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology, on which Boehlert then served as the ranking Republican. Goldston left that job to manage the Council on Competitiveness project that resulted in the report, "Endless Frontier, Limited Resources: U.S. R&D Policy for Competitiveness." He became Boehlert's Legislative Director in 1995.Goldston has a B.A. from Cornell University and has completed the course work for a Ph.D. in American history at the University of Pennsylvania.
Goldston says Boehlert is likely to focus on math and science education, alternative energy sources, and environmental research. He plans to reverse a rule barring scientists coming to Washington for 1-year congressional fellowships from working on the committee. However, it is thought that Boehlert is not a champion of the "doubling bill" which would authorize a doubling in federal R&D spending over seven years. The bill made it through the Senate in the 106th Congress but never made it out of committee in the House because of strong opposition from then Chairman James Sensenbrenner.
Goldston is a scheduled speaker for a panel discussion to be held at the AIBS Annual Meeting this March, in the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel. The panel, scheduled for March 26 at 1 p.m. and entitled In the Best Interest of Science Participation in Public Policy, will demonstrate: how Congress obtains and uses scientific information; where scientific societies and individual scientists can make a contribution; how to communicate scientific information effectively; and how to avoid the pitfalls. The AIBS meeting's program and registration forms are online at www.aibs.org/meeting2001
AIBS SIGNS ON TO RECOMMENDATIONS TO CONGRESS FOR NSF FUNDING LEVELS - AIBS joined with the 71 other scientific societies and organizations that comprise the Coalition for National Science Funding on a statement recommending to Congress and the new Administration. The statement commends Congress and the Administration for providing the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the largest dollar increase in the agency's history in Fiscal Year 2001. It goes on to strongly urge the Administration and Congress to provide no less than $5.1 billion, a 15% increase, for the NSF in FY 2002, noting that this increase is a necessary step toward doubling the NSF's budget by 2006. This recommendation was echoed by the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), whose own statement, released 24 January 2001, also called for 15-percent increases for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and a $50-million increase in the Pentagon's basic research budget for the life sciences. FASEB strongly supports increasing funding for the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program to a level of $200 million, as the first step toward reaching its authorized level of $500 million. This peer-reviewed, investigator-initiated competitive grant program is the most effective mechanism for ensuring the highest quality extramural research in support of USDA priorities.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, recommends substantial cuts in many research programs. Saying that there are many areas of basic scientific research that can be scaled back or improved significantly, the report targets direct financial support for staff and other overhead costs of independent research facilities and centers. The report suggests that NSF education and human resources funds be converted into block grants to the states for school-based science programs, saying that individual schools, local school districts, and states should have the freedom to define their own goals and methodologies. Heritage also calls the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EpSCOR) unnecessary. According to Heritage, it is "counterproductive" to give states money to learn how to get more money from the federal government. Taking aim at the EPA, the Heritage Foundation recommends terminating research and information collection efforts and limiting the agency to establishing environmental standards based on peer-reviewed research funded through the private sector and other government agencies. It charges the EPA with de-emphasizing science in making regulatory decisions, in order to satisfy the political leanings of its leadership. If they had their way, the Heritage Foundation would merge the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and limit funding to 25% of the combined funding for ARS and CSREES, with the funding to go to small, competitive research grants. Most agricultural research would be handled by the private sector under this scenario. The Heritage report does not single out the National Research Initiative, but with such budget constraints, the NRI would be greatly reduced.
COLWELL LIKELY TO REMAIN AT NSF - Despite some concern that President Bush might replace Rita Colwell as NSF Director, indications are that she will stay on to complete her 6-year term. Although no formal announcement has been made by the Administration, there are no indications that the Administration intends to make a change at NSF. Scientific organizations are concerned that the position remain apolitical, as originally intended by Congress in creating the agency.
GROAT TO REMAIN HEAD OF U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, THANKS AIBS FOR ITS SUPPORT - Charles "Chip" Groat will remain the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. The announcement was made on 22 January 2001. Dr. Groat wrote to AIBS, "Thanks for the words of congratulations and a special thanks for the support you and others from the Coalition for Science-based Land Management provided. It was clear from conversations I had with the transition team that it was the breadth of support I received from outside that was the deciding factor and I really appreciate your efforts." The Coalition for Science-based Land Management comprises scientific, wildlife management, natural resource management, and conservation organizations. The scientific societies include the Ornithological Council, the National Council for Science and the Environment, the Ecological Society of America, the American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union, and The Wildlife Society.