Democrats Want More Information on Hydraulic Fracturing
Washington, DC – ( Wednesday, May 11, 2011) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to discuss hydraulic fracturing technologies and practices used to access new unconventional natural gas-bearing formations. Democrats wanted to understand what research was required to assess the impacts of this technology on public health and the environment. The hearing focused on the congressionally-mandated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing as well as the ongoing debate regarding State versus Federal government authority to regulate the practice.
In her opening statement, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) acknowledged the importance and potential of natural gas, “[f]ossil fuels power our manufacturing base, our transportation sector, our agricultural sector, and more…we will rely on these resources and technologies to achieve our energy, economic, national security, and, in some cases, our environmental objectives.” However, she was quick to underscore her concern by highlighting the impacts of relying on fossil fuels to achieve these goals “we also know that fossil fuels carry significant environmental risks. In this I am speaking of the oceans we fish, the soil we farm, the air we breathe, and the water we drink – all of which have real economic value. Nobody gets rich from clean air and water, but everybody benefits, and nobody should have the right to take those away.”
She further reminded the Committee that the industry is primarily concerned with profit when developing new resources, “let us not be fooled into believing that the drilling industry alone, out of sheer benevolence, will implement cleaner and potentially more costly technologies and practices. It has never worked that way, and likely never will. Without regulations to level the playing field, there are few incentives to improve environmental performance.”
Concerned by the assertions of some Members and witnesses that hydraulic fracturing has a long safety record, Ranking Member Johnson sought to underscore the new risks of the methods to produce previously-unrecoverable natural gas locked in shale rock formations, “Contrary to industry’s claims that it has been doing this safely for 60 years, this is a new suite of technologies that may have very different environmental impacts in different geologies and regions, and that risk is compounded by the scale of operations we see today.”
Reflecting the concerns expressed across the country, Committee Democrats pressed the panel for more information on additional research that was needed to make better decisions about hydraulic fracturing. Regarding the study that EPA is carrying out at the direction of Congress, Ranking Member Johnson said, “The EPA study is an opportunity to gain more knowledge about hydraulic fracturing, and the opportunity should not be wasted by narrowing the scope so much that we keep ourselves ignorant to the technology’s impacts.”
Stressing her concern that the public and policymakers do not have enough information to make decisions on hydraulic fracturing, Ranking Member Johnson said, “we simply do not have enough data yet to say, nor will we if industry refuses to disclose the chemicals it uses, and if EPA cannot do its job of determining the risks.”
Despite her questions about the safety of current hydraulic fracturing technologies, she focused on the responsibility of the Committee by stating, “I want to focus on what I believe is a guiding principle of this Committee, which is that technologies should evolve, and, in the case of drilling for unconventional oil and natural gas, become more efficient, safe, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable… If there are problems with hydraulic fracturing, let’s acknowledge it and then work to advanced technologies to solve them.”
Stating that caution concerning hydraulic fracturing was warranted, she reminded the Committee of the hazards seen elsewhere in the energy industry. She said, “We have seen recently how flawed industry practices, inadequate training and technologies, poorly designed systems, shortsighted risk assessments, lax governmental oversight, and sheer bad luck can have tragic and unimaginable consequences. Major disasters such as Fukushima and the Deepwater Horizon remind us of the real risk of catastrophic accidents. But, they also overshadow the frequency of smaller safety incidents and spills, and the pollution that escapes regulators’ attention every day. We do not have to accept this as the cost of our energy addiction.”
Committee Approves Small Business Legislation
Democratic Efforts to Strengthen Outreach and Preserve U.S. Jobs Blocked
Washington, DC – (Wednesday, May 04, 2011) Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology approved by voice vote H.R. 1425, the Creating Jobs Through Small Business Innovation Act of 2011. The bill reauthorizes the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program.
“We all recognize the important role that small businesses play in fueling technological innovation and creating jobs in the United States,” said Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We should be doing all that we can to foster a vibrant small business community and give our small businesses the tools that they need to succeed. The SBIR and STTR programs are such tools. The programs have been critically important to fostering innovation by small businesses.”
The Creating Jobs Through Small Business Innovation Act of 2011 was introduced on April 7, 2011 with Ranking Member Johnson and Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Ranking Member David Wu (D-OR) as original cosponsors. It was approved by the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee on April 13, 2011 by voice vote. The bill makes several changes to the SBIR and STTR programs to modernize them and make them more efficient and effective. Among other things, the bill reinstates eligibility for venture-capital backed small businesses, increases Phase I and Phase II award sizes, provides agencies with enhanced flexibility to carry out their programs, provides for improved oversight and evaluation, streamlines and condenses the application process, and expands commercialization efforts.
During the markup, Ranking Member Johnson was joined by Representative Frederica Wilson (D-FL) in offering a cost-neutral amendment requiring agencies that participate in the pilot program for administrative, oversight and contract processing costs to use a portion of the allowable funds for outreach and technical assistance activities directed at underrepresented small businesses. Small businesses targeted by the amendment included those owned by veterans, women, and minorities and those located in geographic areas underrepresented in the programs, including rural areas, and areas with an unemployment rate that exceeds the national unemployment rate.
“I believe that innovation can come from anywhere and that all small businesses – not just a small subset of small businesses – are capable of developing innovative new technologies,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “And I think that our chances of getting game-changing innovation are significantly increased if the SBIR applicant pool is larger and more diverse. We need to do a better job of reaching out to small businesses that have traditionally been underrepresented in the SBIR program.”
One of the four stated congressional objectives of the SBIR program is to increase participation by woman- and minority-owned small businesses. In its 2008 evaluation of the SBIR program, the National Research Council found that the program was not achieving this objective and recommended that targeted outreach be developed to improve the participation rates of woman- and minority-owned small businesses. The amendment was defeated on a largely party-line vote of 15-17.
Several other Democratic Members of the Committee offered amendments during today’s markup. The Committee approved by voice vote an amendment by Representative Wu to add the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the category of agencies able to spend a greater percentage of their SBIR budget on venture capital-backed small businesses and an amendment by Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) requiring the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an evaluation of the STTR program. The Committee also approved, on a bipartisan vote of 16-14, an amendment by Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) to establish a proof of concept pilot program for researchers from universities and research institutions at the National Institutes of Health.
The Committee also rejected along party lines an amendment by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) to prohibit foreign owned small businesses from participating in the programs and an amendment by Representative Wu to extend the authorization period for two additional years.
Committee Democrats Concerned that Hearing Fails to Address Scientific Basis for Action on Climate Change
(Washington, DC) –On Thursday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing titled, “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy”. Testifying before the Committee were six witnesses: three scientists; a business school professor of marketing; an energy industry lawyer; and an economist. Topics for witness testimony and Committee Member questions ranged from the scientific foundations of climate change, to the controversy over stolen emails between the since-exonerated researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding that greenhouse gas emissions qualify as air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.
Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) began by highlighting the importance of hearings to explore climate science. She stated, “Political opinions on climate change vary greatly, and nowhere more than here in the U.S. Congress. As one who accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus around climate change, I welcome the opportunity for this Committee to hear a number of perspectives on climate science. However, I believe this hearing will fall far short of providing a meaningful discourse on the subject.”
She continued by expressing her concern with the focus of the hearing and the makeup of the witness panel. She stated, “I am disappointed in the very broad scope of this hearing, which arguably ranges beyond the jurisdiction of this Committee, without sufficient numbers of witnesses to do the topics justice. I believe that a subject as complex as we are attempting to cover today warrants, at the very least, multiple panels, if not multiple hearings. To hope to adequately cover everything from basic science to regulatory policy in one 2-hour hearing strikes me as too ambitious, if not a little negligent.”
She continued, “Likewise I am disappointed by the makeup of the panel today. By that I mean no disrespect to these men or the quality of their work. However, for years we, Democrats, have been accused of ignoring a large subset of the climate science community that, in varying degrees, does not subscribe to the conclusions of the IPCC or otherwise does not accept that the climate is changing, and that it is largely due to human activity. We have been told that these scientists’ voices have been squashed by a wide-ranging conspiracy, and that under the new House leadership they would finally have a platform to dispel the alarmists’ mistruths about the science of global climate change. Well, where are they? Where are the masses of legitimate expert witnesses who will corroborate the assertion that climate change is an unproven theory, or worse, a hoax? I don’t see them here today.”
Despite the assertions by some Committee members that climate change was unproven, the panel appeared to agree that anthropogenic global change is real. When Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) asked who, if any, of the six witnesses would declare that climate change is not happening and that human activity does not play a role in the change, all but one remained silent.
Investigations and Oversight Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) called attention to the evolving nature and importance of scientific research by stating, “As with any field of science, the continual study of climate science promotes breakthroughs, discoveries, and a gradual improvement in the understanding of the field. In a field as complex and important as climate science, we can never stop looking, and we must be willing to change as the science evolves. If we want more certainty, continual investment in the field of climate research should be important to everyone, especially in our monitoring and satellite capabilities.”
This echoed a similar statement made by Ranking Member Johnson earlier in the hearing: “Congress should acknowledge that we are not the experts, and that allowing partisan politics to dictate the scientific understanding of climate change is cynical, short-sighted, and, by definition, ignorant. I implore my colleagues to recognize the value of research, and resist efforts to defund and destroy the very scientific community that will give us answers. We may not agree as to where the uncertainties within climate science lie, but we can all understand that vast and avoidable uncertainties will remain if you stop the progress of climate science. “
In his testimony, MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, countered the assertions by some of the witnesses and Members that the scientific community overstates the magnitude and potential impacts of climate change. He stated, “In assessing risk, scientists have historically been notably conservative. It is part of the culture of science to avoid going out on limbs, preferring to underestimate risk to provoking the charge of alarmism from our colleagues… Far from being alarmist, scientists have historically erred on the side of underestimating risk.”
In addressing the controversy sparked by emails stolen from the Climate Research Unit, Dr. Emanuel, who served on the U.K. Royal Society panel investigating the allegations of scientific misconduct at CRU, stated, “I am appalled at the energetic campaign of disinformation being waged in the climate arena. I have watched good, decent, hard-working scientists savaged and whole fields of scholarship attacked without merit… Neither we nor several other investigative panels found any evidence of misconduct… The true scandal here is the enormously successful attempt to elevate this single lapse of judgment on the part of a small number of scientists into sweeping condemnation of a whole scholarly endeavor.”
Committee Democrats: NSF and NIST Play Critical Roles in the Nation’s Innovation Agenda and Long-Term Growth
(Washington, DC) –The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing today to discuss the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for research and for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF); and technology and innovation programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Testifying on NSF’s budget request were the Director, Dr. Subra Suresh, and the Chairman of the National Science Board, Dr. Ray Bowen. Testifying on NIST’s budget request was the Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and the Director of NIST, Dr. Patrick Gallagher. This was the first opportunity for both Dr. Suresh and Dr. Bowen to testify before the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
“I’m pleased to see that the President’s budget request shares this Committee’s goal, as reflected in the America COMPETES Act and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, of doubling the budgets of these agencies, and laying a strong foundation for our nation’s future competitiveness,” said Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “This President understands that our future economic growth, and therefore our ability to reduce our debt in the future, is tied very strongly to the investments we make in science and innovation today.”
Democratic Members expressed support for the robust research budget being proposed for NSF and for its efforts to provide opportunities to enhance critically important interdisciplinary research in areas such as advanced manufacturing and nanoelectronics. “The NSF is absolutely critical to American innovation and economic competitiveness, and while it is vital we address budget deficits, we must preserve investments that lead to private-sector job creation and growth,” said Research and Science Education Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL). “We also need to make sure we do everything possible to turn NSF discoveries into American jobs. That’s why I’m very pleased the NSF budget request invests in an Advanced Manufacturing Initiative based on language I included in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Suresh when he says that this initiative ‘holds tremendous potential for significant short-term and long-term economic impact.’”
Members also expressed support for NIST’s budget request and in particular the agency’s sustained commitments to addressing critical challenges in manufacturing, clean energy, and cybersecurity. “NIST is crucial to American economic development, technology, and innovation,” said Technology and Innovation Ranking Member David Wu (D-OR). “It is encouraging that the President’s proposed budget reflects the important role that NIST plays in setting standards, developing innovative technologies, and bolstering U.S. manufacturing through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Supporting NIST’s mission is key to ensuring our long-term economic competitiveness.”
Democratic Members raised concerns about some of the specific details in the request, including level funding for many of NSF’s important STEM education and broadening participation programs, and they stressed the need for coordination between NIST and other agencies on a number of new standards-related efforts proposed in the budget request. However, Ranking Member Johnson reserved her strongest criticism for the looming cuts to these agencies in the pending FY 2011 Continuing Resolution.
“If the funding bill—H.R.1—passed by the House last month is enacted, we will be moving in exactly the wrong direction,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “I share the well-founded concern of many Members that if we don’t act to address our deficit, we will be leaving our children and grandchildren with a growing debt that they will spend their lifetimes trying to pay down. However, I am dumbfounded that we are even considering cutting the very investments that will reduce our debt over the long-term, ensure that there are well-paying jobs for future generations, and help our young people develop the skills that they need to get those jobs. The lasting consequences of the proposed cuts to science and education are enormous, and go well beyond the jobs and research facilities that would be lost today.”
Committee Democrats Decry Proposed Drastic Cuts to Critical DOE Programs
(Washington, DC) –The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to discuss the Administration’s FY 2012 budget request for energy research and technology development programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) with Secretary Steven Chu testifying.
The President’s FY 2012 request for DOE of $29.5 billion is a $3.1 billion (11.8%) increase over FY 2010 appropriations. Many of the Department’s key research programs see significant increases.
Echoing the concern of Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) over the national deficit, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated, “As any responsible American family would do, we have to reconcile how much money the government spends with what it brings in.” However, she followed by expressing her deep concern over proposals for radical budget cuts to the nation’s science agencies, such as the Department of Energy, as seen recently in the House-passed H.R. 1. She stated, “We are in danger of jeopardizing our standard of living and our future if we allow good programs to fall victim to indiscriminate cuts. It is time to set priorities, and make hard choices that do not leave our workforce ill-prepared and hamper the country’s ability to innovate and grow…Our economic woes were not caused by too much science. At a time like this we need to make the critical investments to bolster our research infrastructure and our future workforce, advancing our technological capabilities now, while sowing the seeds for the industries of the future.”
Describing the impacts of major science and technology budget cuts, Congresswoman Johnson said, “If the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House two weeks ago were enacted, the Department of Energy’s basic science and energy RD&D portfolios, as well as its extensive network of National Laboratories and world-class facilities, would be devastated. This devastation would cause thousands of research scientists, graduate students, technical and administrative staff, contractors, and others to be laid off or furloughed. The impact on indirect jobs would be far greater…. At the same time, these cuts would have a very negligible real impact on our national deficit.”
She also expressed alarm about how the CR could impact young scientists, “This is especially worrisome to me because as we all know, the last hired are often the first fired. Many of the graduate students and early career researchers that our future depends upon will likely be the first to lose their jobs. This strikes at the heart of a generation ripe with a passion for innovating, young people who are willing to work long nights in labs across the country to find solutions to our nation’s economic, national security, energy, and environmental problems.”
With both the President’s FY 2012 Budget Request and the FY2011 Continuing Resolution still before the Congress, Ranking Member Johnson drew a distinction between the very different futures for U.S. innovation sectors by saying, “We cannot afford to roll back the clock on the economy… In the President’s recent State of the Union address he spoke at length about the need to reinvigorate the American capacity for innovation, and he highlighted the economic opportunity that lies in clean energy technologies. The FY 2012 request for DOE proposes increases for a number of critical programs, while making some tough but prudent decreases in others. This is a direct illustration of the President’s commitment to a clean energy future, and takes us in the opposite direction of where the CR would leave us.”
Ranking Member Johnson Reacts To President's FY 2012 Budget Request
Washington, D.C., February 15, 2011 –Yesterday, the White House released the FY 2012 budget request, and House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) offered the following statement:
“The President’s approach of making key targeted investments to promote innovation and maintain our economic competitiveness offers a sharp contrast to the arbitrary and short-sighted cuts contained in the Continuing Resolution that the House will be considering this week. In short, the President’s FY 2012 budget will help create a better future for our children, whereas the House Republicans’ Continuing Resolution would take our country in the wrong direction. The President’s budget clearly recognizes the need for continued investment in R&D and in math and science education. We are in a very challenging budgetary environment, but I’m pleased to see that the President’s budget continues to make room for important initiatives at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, as well as substantial funding for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). The U. S. must be able to not only create new jobs, meet our growing need for energy and reduce carbon emissions, but also establish leadership in these emerging fields. The President’s budget request also provides needed funding for NOAA, NASA, and FAA. As we review the President’s request in more detail, we will need to make sure that the priorities reflected in the budget will provide for a sustainable and productive path forward for each of our important R&D agencies. Other nations are investing heavily in R&D and innovative technologies to improve their economies. I look forward to working with the President and Members on both sides of the aisle who are committed to ensuring that America remains competitive in the coming decades.”