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April 11, 2006
Also appeared in print April 17, 2006, p. 8


Energy Advisory Board Abolished

Bodman decides board is no longer needed as White House sets direction for research

Glenn Hess

The Department of Energy's decision to disband its principal scientific advisory committee next month is the latest example of the Bush Administration's refusal to listen to outside, independent scientific advice, critics told C&EN on April 10.

Established during the Carter Administration, the 28-member independent Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) is no longer needed, says DOE spokesman Craig Stevens, and will shut down on May 20 after it completes a final report on science and math education. Stevens says two recently announced presidential initiatives will guide the department's work on energy and basic research over the next several years.



Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman "believes that we have a strong agenda moving forward with the American Competitiveness and Advanced Energy Initiatives put forth by the White House," Stevens says. "With these two initiatives, the secretary believes our course is charted for the next couple of years."

The new science and technology programs seek to slash foreign oil dependence through science funding and increased use of alternative and renewable energy technologies.

However, Edwin Lyman, senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the decision to disband the advisory panel is "a symptom of an Administration that doesn't like to hear any kind of contrary view, that simply likes to talk to itself. The notion that the Energy Department has all the information it needs on scientific and technical issues is ludicrous." Lyman says DOE prefers to "listen to national lab advocates who have their own agendas instead of soliciting external scientific advice to try to put things into perspective."

Kent J. Bransford, national president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, says the decision is "not a surprise" and is consistent with "the Administration's tendency to ignore outside scientific input." One example, Bransford says, is the White House's opposition to mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions, which "essentially ignores the cautions and input of some 2,000 international scientists" on the threat of global warming.

SEAB was established in 1990 to provide advice, information, and recommendations to the secretary on the department's basic and applied research activities, economic and national security policy, educational issues, and laboratory management. SEAB, a mix of scientists, business executives, and former government officials, replaced the Energy Research Advisory Board, which had been in operation since 1978.

Stevens says the board could be reconstituted in the future if the secretary decides he needs additional counsel on a particular subject. Bodman, who has not met with SEAB since he joined the department more than a year ago, is a chemical engineer and has "an understanding of science and scientific processes," the spokesman notes.

SEAB's science and mathematics education task force, chaired by Akron University President Luis Proenza, plans to approve and submit a report to Bodman in May on how DOE can most effectively utilize its scientific and technical resources, including its national laboratories, to educate a new generation of career scientists and engineers and enhance the scientific literacy of the nation.

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