APS News

The Washington Dispatch

ISSUE: Budget and Authorization Environment

US Capitol viewed through treesFiscal Year 2012 Appropriations
As of the deadline for APS News, the House of Representatives had passed the Energy and Water Development (E&W) bill that funds DOE and completed full committee action on the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) bill that funds NSF, NIST, and NASA. A summary of key elements of the action follows.

  • E&W Appropriations bill (HR 2354): On July 15th the House passed H.R. 2354 by a vote of 219 (209 R, 10 D), to 196 (21 R, 175 D), providing $24.7B for DOE (-$850M relative to FY11), including $4.8B for the Office of Science (-$43M); $1.3B for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy [EERE] (-$491M); $733M for Nuclear Energy [NE] (+$8M); $477M for Fossil Energy (+$32M); $180M for ARPA-E (+$0); $10.6B for National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] (+$76M); and $4.9B for Defense Environmental Cleanup (-$42M). Rep. Holt D-NJ 12th) offered an amendment that would have restored the $43M cut from the Office of Science. The amendment failed, as did a series of amendments offered by Rep. McClintock (R- CA 4th) that would have stripped all funding from EERE and ARPA-E and reduced the Office of Science appropriation by an additional $820M.
  • During the Appropriations Committee markup and subsequently during floor consideration, Rep. Schiff (D-CA 29th) offered an amendment shifting $10M from NE to NNSA in order to restart production of Pu-238 for NASA’s deep space probes. It failed both times. The issue has emerged several times during the last three years because Pu-238 is in very short supply. It was originally produced as a byproduct of the nuclear weapons program and more recently obtained from excess Russian supplies. Neither source currently exists, and if the NNSA production program is not re-started, NASA will be unable to conduct future deep-space exploration. The issue is jurisdictional: the E&W chair and ranking member both argue the funding responsibility is entirely NASA’s rather than equally shared by NNSA and NASA, as the White House argues.
  • The E&W Subcommittee report also contains language of concern: (1) It cautions DOE against undertaking construction and management of the proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) in South Dakota, although it provides $19M to keep the mine from flooding; (2) It also directs Basic Energy Sciences to create, “a performance ranking of all ongoing multi-year research projects…by comparing current performance with original project goals” and directs DOE to eliminate $25M by terminating the lowest ranked grants based solely on that criterion.
  • CJS Appropriations bill (No bill number assigned): The House Appropriations Committee passed the CJS bill by voice vote on July 13th, providing $4.5B for NASA Science (-$431M); $701M for NIST (-$49M) and $6.9B for NSF (+$0). Within the NSF total, relative to FY11 the bill would increase Research and Related Activities by $43M, decrease Education and Human Resources by $26M and decrease Major Research Equipment Facilities and Construction by $17M.
  • Of greatest concern to the science community should be the elimination of funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the highest priority for astronomy and astrophysics. Rep. Wolf (R-VA 10th), chair of the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, alleged that NASA had “been hiding costs” associated with the telescope and cited an escalated $7.8B cost estimate provided by the Government Accountability Office. He also claimed that NASA had rushed its planning. In response, Sen. Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, reaffirmed her support for the JWST project, stating, “The Webb Telescope will lead to the kind of innovation and discovery that have made America great. It will inspire America’s next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new ideas that lead to the new jobs in our new economy. The Administration must step in and fight for the James Webb Telescope.” Money for JWST could be restored at a later stage in the budget process, by either the full House or the Senate.

Thus far, the Senate has begun debate on only one appropriations bill: Military Construction. It is not expected to address the other eleven bills until after Congress returns from its August recess, virtually assuring a Continuing Resolution to take effect when the new fiscal year begins on October 1st.

APS Washington Office’s Blog
Check Physics Frontline, the Washington Office’s Blog, for the latest news on the FY12 Budgets.
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A new Subcommittee on International Collaboration was proposed at the Panel’s last meeting. The subcommittee would focus on including an international perspective on the many issues discussed within POPA. Opportunities to partner with other scientific societies in the global policy arena would be sought out. The Subcommittee on Energy & Environment is more fully researching a proposal for an educational component associated with the Direct Air Capture Technology Assessment. The Subcommittee on National Security will provide a full proposal for a workshop on issues related to nuclear weapons treaties at the Panel’s next meeting.   

Since early May 2011 there has been considerable activity associated with the Energy Critical Elements report; the study chair, Dr. Robert Jaffe, has presented the results of the study at Congressional hearings and in briefings with non-governmental organizations (see story and picture in the July APS News).

POPA Study Suggestions
If you have suggestions for a POPA study, please send in your ideas.
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ISSUE: Media Update

The Kane County Chronicle (IL), a local newspaper that covers Rep. Randy Hultgren’s district, published a story on June 3rd about his introduction of the Energy Critical Elements Advancement Act of 2011 (HR 2090). The legislation includes recommendations outlined in the APS Energy Critical Elements Report. They include information sharing, research and recycling.


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Editor: Alan Chodos