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January 29, 2001
Volume 79, Number 5
CENEAR 79 5 pp.21-28
ISSN 0009-2347
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The spirit of bipartisanship and the act of compromise will be needed if the House and Senate are to pass any meaningful legislation this year


The First Session of the 107th U.S. Congress opened a week ago amid dour predictions about its ability to function and to pass meaningful legislation. Among the first issues debated will be tax cuts, health care and prescription drug costs, and improvements in education. And, as always, money will be a major topic.The results of last year's election loom large over Congress, particularly the Senate. For the first time in history the chamber is split 50-50, and the Democrats and Republicans have agreed to equal committee seats. Although Republicans retain the committee chairs, this level of equity is unprecedented. On the House side, the GOP retains a razor-thin six-seat majority.

LOFTY AMBITIONS The ceiling below the dome of the Capitol, where this year's legislative battles will play out.
Whether this will lead to more or less polarization among members is unknown, but the legislative impact should be clear. No bills with extreme right- or left-wing programs will be able to be pushed through this Congress. Only legislation with moderate aims and moderate spending is likely to have a chance of passing. Tax cuts will have to be balanced and not too great. Education measures will have to benefit all states equally, and energy programs will have to benefit the consumer and industry.

What Congress does with the fiscal 2002 federal budget is a key. Last year, with a multi-billion-dollar surplus, spending was pretty free and most federal R&D agencies got significant increases. With the economy slowing, there will be doubts about that sort of largesse, and discretionary spending, including R&D, will be more tightly controlled for fiscal 2002.

Consideration of the budget for 2002 will begin late this session because Bill Clinton did not prepare a full-blown budget. Instead, he issued a budget plan and left the details for President George W. Bush. Bush is not likely to submit detailed spending figures for a couple of months, leaving Congress waiting to begin the appropriations process. With the two chambers so evenly divided, one side is not going to be able to force spending on radical programs on the other, so a level of bipartisanship will have to be maintained if the 13 spending bills are to be finished before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

So with a new President and a new Congress in place, the following is C&EN's annual review of issues that will be occupying the government in the months ahead.

NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY. Early in this session, committees of both the House and Senate are expected to take up the thorny issue of energy. Members of Congress, congressional staff, and lobbyists for industry and environmental groups all express the need for a renewed effort to develop a national energy policy.

However, these same parties also voice the likelihood that, as in previous years, Congress will have a tough time passing comprehensive energy legislation. Although members may be able to craft a big energy bill that pleases their supporters, moving it through to completion will be much more difficult.

"The days of the omnibus bill are over," says Mark Whitenton, vice president of resources, environment, and regulation issues for the National Association of Manufacturers. And with the highly conflicting economic, regional, environmental, and even philosophical views that accompany energy discussions, consensus is nearly impossible. Consequently, Whitenton and others predict hot debates over energy policy during legislative hearings and the movement of small bills with limited, single purposes.

A largely unknown but critical component in upcoming energy policy debates is the view of Bush and his energy secretary, Spencer Abraham.

Meanwhile, economics may push the President to focus on energy, according to James McVaney, director of federal relations at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). "Every recession in the past century was preceded by a run-up in energy costs," he says, "and I would think the White House would pay close attention to this issue and seek to get it resolved quickly.

"The Administration's base of knowledge is natural gas and oil, so I'd guess it would gravitate toward those first," McVaney says. "But because I doubt California's electricity deregulation problems will be in any better shape by spring or
summer than they are right now, Congress will have to work toward fixing the wholesale electricity market by then."

PASSAGEWAY A corridor outside the Senate side of the Capitol.
Chemical companies, he says, have their own particular concerns, especially the recent increase in natural gas prices and protections for company cogeneration facilities. He notes that some 220 chemical plants have on-site energy cogeneration facilities, and company officials are concerned about maintaining the financial viability of cogeneration facilities in a deregulated electricity marketplace. Companies also are interested in legislation to ensure they will not be hampered in joining together to build single cogeneration facilities that will supply industrial power as well as sell electricity to the grid, he says.

But when Congress will get around to these specific issues is unknown. ACC believes several energy bills will be introduced early in the session, but real lobbying attention will only start when the Administration makes its intentions clear.

Abraham said at his confirmation hearing on Jan. 18 before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee that he and Bush are "deeply committed" to developing an energy policy that would increase domestic energy production as well as increase use of renewable energy and develop new technologies to conserve fossil fuels and reduce pollution.

The demands for such a policy are many, he said, pointing first to problems in California due to its attempt to deregulate electricity markets followed by shortages in Northeast heating oil supplies. He also singled out the U.S.'s growing dependence on oil imports and the mushrooming price of natural gas. But Abraham had no details for any comprehensive policy to give the senators.

With or without Abraham, sources say, California's time of troubles and the nation's dependance on natural gas will drive energy legislation.

The first energy bill out of the blocks is likely to be legislation by Sens. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), majority leader.

Expected in early February, the 108-page bill will be broader than a similar one introduced last year, which got nowhere. Like last year's bill, the new one will address a host of energy issues and will include provisions to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Senate staff say.

Republican staff say this year--with high energy prices and a new President--the bill's outcome may be different. They note that, unlike Clinton, Bush has a background in oil and wants to drill in ANWR. On the Democratic side, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is putting together an alternative bill that aims to increase domestic energy availability without drilling in ANWR.

There will be a tough fight in Congress over drilling in ANWR, predicts Daniel A. Lashof, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental movement is lined up to oppose ANWR drilling, he notes, adding that in the end, the movement will prevail.

"We'll see," Murkowski's staff answers.

In the House, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) predicts "this will be the 'energy Congress.' " Barton chairs the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Air Quality, and his staff says hearings are expected early in the session to discuss California's energy deregulation problems, followed by legislation addressing overall deregulation and energy supply issues.

House and Senate aides say Bush's actions as the new President could make energy legislation irrelevant in some areas or fundamentally change the shape of legislation in others.

For instance, if Bush and Abraham push for quick action on nuclear repository construction at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, the need for legislation on interim storage of nuclear waste would be unnecessary, ending a perennial congressional debate. Or if the Interior Department eases restrictions on drilling for oil or gas on federal lands, legislation adding incentives for increased exploration and production may be unnecessary.

But in the wake of California's rolling blackouts and possible state utility bankruptcies, pressure on Congress to step into the energy policy deregulation debate is nearly unavoidable.

Abraham was quizzed about deregulation and California by several senators during his confirmation hearing. He studiously avoided comment, noting that "even speculation, if misinterpreted," could disrupt deliberations going on now between California and the federal government.

However, even Murkowski, Abraham's strongest ally at the hearing, warned of a brief honeymoon unless the Administration soon makes clear its views on California.

Several exchanges among senators during Abraham's confirmation hearing reflected the difficulty in reaching a consensus on energy deregulation that would be needed for passage in this Congress.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Gordon H. Smith (R) as well as Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Murkowski strongly criticized California, blaming state officials and residents for the energy problems they now face. In Oregon's case, the senators complained that their state was being forced to aid California by supplying additional electricity during its crisis. They urged Abraham to stop requiring these emergency allocations of power put in place by former energy secretary Bill Richardson.

Following the criticisms, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a new committee member, got her chance to speak. As she laid out her view of the crisis and possible solutions, the California critics who didn't sympathize with her slowly slipped away from the dais. By the time she finished a brief presentation, all of her critics had left.

ECONOMY. There will be a lot of pressure this year to pass legislation lowering taxes. This was a major theme of Bush's campaign, and he is expected to put forward soon some kind of across-the-board reduction proposal.

The only part of Bush's tax plan that applies strictly to industry is his proposal to make permanent the research and experimentation tax credit. That credit, currently set to expire in 2004, allows companies to deduct 20% of their R&D costs. Congress will try to pass this proposal, although attempts over the years to make this credit permanent have always met with disappointment.

Congressional tax-writing panels, mainly the House Ways & Means Committee, are also expected to consider proposals to lower business taxes across the board, as they will be asked to do for individuals. Among the issues business groups are pushing for are elimination of the alternative minimum tax, reduction of the tax rate on capital gains, and longer time limits on writing off the cost of certain capital purchases.

First up on trade issues will be confirmation of Bush's nominee for trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick, who is expected to be confirmed. Rumors that Bush was considering downgrading this position and dividing it among several cabinet departments had many members of Congress concerned. They believe that diluting trade authority would have sent a signal to U.S. trading partners that the issue was unimportant.

The main trade issues to be considered in this Congress may be the fast-track negotiating authority and the handling of labor and environmental issues in trade deals.

Fast-track authority allows the President to negotiate international trade treaties and then present the final product to the Senate for a simple yes or no vote. A bill to do this was rejected two years ago, and the effect has been to slow trade pacts with many nations.

The problem thus far has been that Democrats have strongly supported mandating that labor and environmental provisions be included in any trade deal, a requirement Republicans have rejected. The issue is expected to be raised early in this Congress, partly because Clinton tried to get these provisions added to trade agreements by executive order.

ACC has four major issues that it will be working on in the 107th Congress, according to Mark Nelson, vice president of federal relations. In addition to working to ensure the business tax cuts, ACC is promoting legislation for competition among railroads and continues to back attempts to enact regulatory reform legislation to require cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment for major rules, Nelson says.

The fourth issue is tort reform. Nelson says ACC supports legislation that would shift class-action lawsuits out of state
courts, which are seen as favorable to plaintiffs. Last year, a tort reform bill passed the House but not the Senate. It would have required that class-action lawsuits be filed in federal courts rather than state courts when any member of a plaintiff class is a citizen of a state different from the defendant.

Don Evans, senior counsel at ACC, has high hopes that tort reform legislation will pass both houses of Congress in 2001. President Bush, he points out, is a strong supporter of tort reform.

Such reform is necessary, Evans says, because "lawyers are seriously abusing the system" by filing class-action lawsuits in the state courts where they "know they
get very favorable treatment." Defendant companies, Evans says, then find they have two choices: settle the case out of court or take a chance on possibly paying huge punitive damages.

Tort reform, however, is far from a sure bet. Most environmental and consumer groups say tort reform would erode the meager power consumers now have to obtain compensation for damage from toxic chemicals and faulty products.

ENVIRONMENT. The environmental agenda for the 107th Congress is not well developed yet. However, key committees in the Senate and the House plan to wrestle with several issues left over from 2000.

Reform of the Superfund law, aimed at cleaning up heavily polluted, abandoned industrial sites, is the highest ranking environmental issue for Sen. Robert C. Smith
(R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, and Rep. W. J. (Billy) Tauzin (R-La.), the new chairman of the House Commerce Committee.

Over the past decade, Republicans and Democrats alike have called for revamping
the Superfund law so cleanups will go more quickly instead of getting bogged down in litigation over who will pay for the work. How to make these changes in the law remains contentious. Legislation has stalled in part because some lawmakers want exceptions to Superfund liability for certain sectors while others vehemently oppose such special treatment.

Smith is pushing a bill to speed cleanup and reuse of brownfields--abandoned urban industrial lands. Last year, he introduced a bill that garnered 66 cosponsors. Despite this widespread support, the legislation fell by the wayside in the flurry of appropriations bills debated before and after the 2000 election.

Congress may also consider reinstating an excise tax on chemical feedstocks and crude oil that, until it expired at the end of 1995, generated revenue for Superfund cleanups. The remaining money in that federal trust fund is expected to run out in 2001.

Smith also wants to address the pollution of groundwater with methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), a chemical added to gasoline to make the fuel burn cleaner. Addressing MTBE is a prickly issue that pits corn-growing interests against gasoline refiners, while locales dealing with drinking water supplies tainted with the substance get snarled in the middle of this debate.

Gasoline makers and some environmental groups want Congress to alter a part of the Clean Air Act that requires addition of oxygenates such as MTBE to gasoline sold in certain urban areas with air pollution problems. Automobiles now burn gasoline more cleanly than they did when the oxygenate provision was enacted in 1990, so this requirement is no longer needed for clean air benefits, they contend.

But corn growers see dollar signs when they consider the possibility of MTBE being banned but the oxygen mandate being retained. This would force refiners to switch from MTBE to another oxygenate, presumably corn-derived ethanol. Oil companies are not fond of ethanol because they can't blend ethanol into gasoline at the refinery--it has to be trucked to distribution terminals--because the hygroscopic chemical attracts trace water in pipelines and storage tanks. Rising oil prices and cuts in foreign production of oil also factor into the discussion, as does an existing federal tax break on fuels made with ethanol.

Science's role at the Environmental Protection Agency is also on the legislative agenda. Last year, the National Research Council (NRC) proposed the creation of a new position at EPA, deputy administrator for science and technology, reporting directly to the agency's chief (C&EN, June 19, 2000, page 22). EPA has never had an official below the level of administrator who has had overall responsibility or authority for scientific and technical agency decisions.

Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.) is championing this change, and earlier this month he introduced a bill (H.R. 64) to create the new position. The current position of EPA deputy administrator would become the deputy administrator for policy and management, which currently has no term limit. In addition, the bill would establish a six-year term for the EPA assistant administrator for research and development.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says she may introduce a bill to elevate EPA to a federal department, making it a cabinet-level agency.

HEALTH AND SAFETY. Agricultural biotechnology and food safety issues are expected to be more prominent than ever, according to Matthew Lyons, director of government relations for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Labeling and stricter regulation will get a lot of attention, he says.

In fact, Sen. Boxer and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) will be introducing biotech food bills very similar to the ones they pushed last year. One bill would re-
quire labeling of genetically engineered food and the other would mandate safety testing of such food that is just as stringent as that now required for food additives.

On Jan. 17, the Food & Drug Administration proposed guidelines for voluntary labeling of biotech food and a rule that requires companies to consult with the agency 120 days before they sell a new biotech food. These proposed guidelines provoked intense opposition among environmental groups, such as Environmental Defense, that are
concerned about possible impacts of genetically engineered foods. The groups have been seeking mandatory labeling and stringent premarket safety testing, and their disappointment over the guidelines FDA proposed is further strengthening their determination to push Congress for passage of the Kucinich/Boxer bills. No one, however, expects these bills to move quickly.

With regard to possible legislation of pesticides, a bill may be introduced once again that aims to ensure that implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) is "based on sound science." In 1999, H.R. 1592 was introduced by Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) to counteract what he called the unscientific risk assessments of organophosphate insecticides being performed by EPA under FQPA. He charged that EPA was basing its assessments on default assumptions of exposure and residue levels that were unrealistically high and that, as a result, organophosphate pesticides were being phased out unnecessarily. This was threatening agricultural pest control
and control of disease-carrying insects, he said.

It may be necessary to introduce a similar bill this year, depending on what the new Administration does or does not do, says Nancy Foster, vice president for legislative affairs at the American Crop Protection Association. Control of mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus will be a big issue this year, she says, and a large variety of pesticides need to be kept available to control those mosquitoes.

But Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP, an activist group that advocates reductions in pesticide use, would strongly oppose a bill similar to H.R. 1592. Such a bill "would delay or eliminate crucial health protections for children by prohibiting EPA from using the extra safety provisions required by FQPA," according to the organization's website.

Congress also is expected to take a serious stab at overturning the regulation on ergonomics published last month by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. An effort by Republicans to stall the regulation at the end of last year using an appropriations bill rider failed.

Republicans and many business organizations oppose the rules because of anticipated high costs, among other issues. The designated labor secretary, Elaine L. Chao, was expected to be questioned about her views on this issue at her confirmation hearing last week.

HISTORIC PREMISES The old Senate Chamber.
NATIONAL SECURITY. Congress, in a reactive mode on national security issues, is waiting to take its cues from the Bush Administration. But beyond stressing the need for a strong national missile defense system, President Bush has said little that signals his intent on arms control treaties, stemming the tide of weapons proliferation, or counterterrorism programs.

The Bush national security team "is not dismissive of arms control if used effectively," says Michael L. Moodie, president of the Chemical & Biological Arms Control Institute and a former arms control official in the senior George Bush's Administration. "But it doesn't embrace arms control for arms control's sake," he adds.

During the presidential campaign, Bush said few complimentary things about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was rejected by the Senate in 1999. Sources C&EN has contacted say there is a very slim chance for its passage in the new Congress. Still, Moodie offers a possible link between the accord and missile defense.

Setting up a son-of-Star Wars system would violate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and alienate Russia, China, and some U.S. allies, which Bush has acknowledged. So if the Administration moves ahead on missile defense, "it may feel that it has to give something in return, and then CTBT might play a role in that way on Capitol Hill," Moodie says.

A Senate source offers another quid pro quo for setting up a missile defense system: increased funding to Russia from the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. As the source points out, Bush has said he expects to cut traditional foreign assistance to Russia but will continue--if not increase--funding to help Russia dismantle its nuclear, chemical, and biological arsenals.

Over the past several budget cycles, Congress has deleted funds to help Russia destroy its chemical weapons production facility at Shchuchye. But with support from the White House, several Senate sources and independent defense analysts believe that Congress may now fund this threat reduction effort.

Beyond the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, Congress is likely to evince little interest in traditional chemical and biological weapons issues. "To the extent that chemical and biological weapons issues land on the congressional agenda this year, concerns about unconventional terrorism at home will likely top the list," says Leslie-Anne Levy, a research associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonprofit public policy institute.

Moodie agrees with Levy and says that "any action on the Hill will be related to the potential for terrorist use, domestic preparedness, and looking at where we stand and where we should go." Indeed, the House Government Reform Committee's subcommittee that covers national security is likely to take a close look at the U.S.'s counterterrorism effort. The committee will focus special attention on who's in charge and how funds are being allocated.

Although a Senate source admits "our government is not well organized to work in a post-Cold War world," the Senate's relevant Armed Services committees are not likely to hold hearings on the U.S.'s counterterrorism programs "until the Administration reviews the budget submissions for these types of programs."

"Clinton moved forward on counterterrorism," says John V. Parachini, executive director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "But the Bush Administration and the new Congress can make a contribution by focusing on spending smart, not just spending big. We still don't have a good handle on whether we are spending too much or too little," he says.

Moodie says even though chemical weapons per se "are not now on anybody's radar screen," they could pop up in two contexts. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will have its first review conference next year. Late this year, congressional committees could begin to examine how implementation issues are faring, how the Organization for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons is functioning, and how well the Russian weapons destruction program is proceeding. Such hearings could help shape the stance the Administration takes in the review conference.

Even earlier this year, the Administration may have to decide on how to handle allegations of Iran's noncompliance with
CWC and whether the U.S. wants to force a challenge inspection. The treaty has been in operation for four years, and there has never been a challenge inspection. "There is some concern [in the arms control community] about the atrophy of treaty-based tools if they are never used," Moodie says. Such concern could prompt congressional hearings.

For years, negotiators have been hammering out a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. There is pressure from Western group members to get the protocol completed by the end of the year and to force the White House to send the protocol to Congress for approval. The protocol that is likely to emerge has verification provisions that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry finds too intrusive.

"If the Western group pushes too hard, the Administration probably won't act and the protocol will never get to the Hill," Moodie says. "And if it goes to the Hill, it's dead."

In summing up congressional action on chemical and biological weapons issues,
John D. Isaacs, president of Council for a Liveable World, a nonprofit arms-control policy group, says, "2001 could be a quiet year in Congress, unless the Bush Administration pushes for new initiatives and new funding."

Quiet or not, expect to hear a new voice on arms control issues. Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the new chairman of the House Science Committee, has long been a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's parliamentary assembly. Moodie says Boehlert was a rapporteur for the assembly's science and technology committee, which took a deep interest in chemical and biological weapons proliferation. "I expect he will add a national security dimension to his committee," Moodie adds.

FIRST PRESIDENT Keeping a watchful eye on Congress.
SCIENCE POLICY. On the science front, the unknown is mixed in with some continuing legislative efforts, particularly those aimed at improving science education and boosting the total federal R&D budget.

But the big unknown, at C&EN press time, is what, if anything, will happen to
the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). Any changes there could be significant because Congress--the House Science Committee in particular--will be looking to the new Administration for some of its policy direction.

But a presidential science adviser has not yet been named, and Bush is said to be considering dismantling OSTP. One idea reportedly on the table is to create two separate offices: an Office of Science Adviser and an Office of Technology Policy.

The reason Bush might dismantle OSTP is that he is wary of any government program that has been linked with the nation's economic success during the Clinton-Gore era. OSTP fits that bill--at least if one listens to OSTP's supporters. They say Bush has nonetheless been strongly advised not to dismantle OSTP because such a move would, in fact, be "a disaster."

Yet other sources say Bush has reason to take a hard look at OSTP and consider alternatives. After all, they say, the office has not ranked high on the priority list of previous administrations.

Regardless of the Administration's moves, several issues are going to be considered by the House Science Committee. Boehlert, the incoming chairman, has received high marks from just about everyone--Democrat or Republican--in the science policy community. He is expected this year to focus the committee on K–12 science education, energy policy, and environmental issues, for example.

But Boehlert has additional concerns that are likely to pop up on the committee's agenda: the issue of balance in the federal R&D portfolio; companion legislation to a bill introduced last year by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that would put all financial support of federal R&D on a doubling track; and a fresh, in-depth look at the university-industry R&D relationship. Boehlert reportedly would like to shed some light on how both industry and universities are being changed by what is viewed as the unprecedented increase in industry funding of university R&D.

The agenda that scientific societies expect to push during the new Congress runs on a parallel track. Those societies representing the physical sciences will push for increased funding for core research in their disciplines, such as chemistry, mathematics, and physics. All the research funding agencies--including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health--will be included in the effort.

Science education will also rank high on the agenda of scientific societies. Along with two House science education bills recently introduced by Ehlers, the societies will push for reauthorization of the omnibus 1965 Elementary & Secondary Education Act. Reauthorization of the act, which normally occurs every five years, was missed last year. The societies also will push to expand programs relating to science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education.

There will be continuing efforts to promote sustainable chemistry and risk education, and a push to make permanent the corporate R&D tax credit and to support pension portability. Even life sciences advocacy groups say they support efforts in Congress to increase funding of the physical sciences. While they have promoted, for example, continuing the track to double the NIH budget, those groups want to see more money for core disciplines such as chemistry that are fundamental to advances in the life sciences and biomedicine.

On the whole, there is tremendous optimism about the outlook for science and
technology in this Congress. Historically, basic science has fared well under Republican administrations, and there seems to be broad recognition in Congress about the importance of the nation's R&D infrastructure to continued economic well-being.

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