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The Week of January 25, 2021

What’s Ahead

Jennifer Granholm speaks following her introduction as President Biden’s nominee for energy secretary.

Jennifer Granholm speaks following her introduction as President Biden’s nominee for energy secretary.

(Image credit – Biden-Harris Transition Team)

Energy Secretary Nominee Granholm Appearing for Senate Hearing

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, the first step on her path to confirmation by the full Senate. As an advocate for a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, she is likely to face probing questions from the committee’s leading Democrat and Republican, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Barrasso (R-WY), who are advocates for the fossil fuel interests in their states. However, her interest in using energy innovation to revive and diversify economically struggling regions aligns with Manchin’s oft-expressed concern for West Virginia’s coal-mining communities. In a recent interview , Manchin noted he has known Granholm for some time, remarking, “She might have a little bit different ideas, and they are going to go back and say, ‘she said this, this, and this.’ The bottom line is that Jennifer is someone I can work with.” At the hearing, Granholm is also likely to discuss various other subjects within the Department of Energy’s jurisdiction, such as nuclear energy, nuclear waste and contamination, and nuclear weapons stewardship, as well as the department’s national laboratory system and expansive scientific research portfolio.

DOE Reconfiguring for Biden Administration

Late last week, Biden administration officials began taking up positions throughout the Department of Energy that do not require Senate confirmation. According to an internal email from new DOE chief of staff Tarak Shah, the new leadership team is placing the Office of Science and applied energy offices under a single “under secretary for science and energy,” restoring an arrangement first put in place by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in 2013 and reversed under the Trump administration. According to Shah, the reorganization will make DOE “better able to coordinate its [R&D and technology demonstration] programs in response to the climate crisis.” The under secretary’s chief of staff will be Ali Douraghy, who was most recently chief strategy officer for Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area. House Science Committee staff member Tanya Das will be chief of staff for the Office of Science and University of Pennsylvania engineering professor Vanessa Chan will lead DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions. The two senior appointees announced for the Office of Fossil Energy, Jennifer Wilcox and Shuchi Talati, are both experts on carbon mitigation, which aligns with the emphasis the newly enacted Energy Act places on advancing carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.

Commerce Secretary Nominee Raimondo Also Facing Senators

On Tuesday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) will appear before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which is considering her nomination for commerce secretary. It will be her first opportunity to directly discuss her views on the missions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both of which are Commerce Department agencies. She could also potentially field questions on the export controls the department is putting into place to protect certain sensitive classes of technology from exploitation by rival nations such as China. Raimondo has already submitted answers to initial written questions from the committee.

Scientific Integrity Order, Bill Reintroduction Expected

President Biden is expected to issue a memorandum on scientific integrity this week, echoing President Obama’s actions on the topic early in his administration, which led to the development of scientific integrity policies that are still in place. The White House has not indicated exactly what new policies Biden’s memorandum will advance. Also this week, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) is expected to reintroduce the Scientific Integrity Act , which seeks to codify in law certain standards for scientific integrity policies. The bill garnered some Republican support last year, but it did not advance after the House passed it as part of partisan pandemic recovery and energy policy packages. Tonko wrote to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy late last year complaining the existing policies had been subject to “egregious violations” under the Trump administration, and in a letter to Biden last week, Tonko asked him to help press Congress to pass his legislation. In addition to his scientific integrity memorandum, Biden is expected to issue an executive order reestablishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which is a formality required to renew the council’s charter and reconstitute its membership on his terms.

Study Begins on Space Radiation Risks

A new National Academies study is kicking off this Monday and Tuesday on long-term cancer risks associated with space radiation on crewed space missions. On Tuesday NASA officials will discuss proposed health protection standards and the committee will review the incidence of cancer within the astronaut corps, including bioethics considerations related to differences in risk between the sexes. NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor will be on hand to provide a crew member’s perspective. The committee is funded by NASA and led by Hedvig Hricak, who chairs the radiology department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Astronomy Advisory Panel Convening

The interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to hear updates from federal program managers. On the first day, the committee will receive an update on governance at Maunakea, which is the site of a number of existing telescopes and the planned Thirty Meter Telescope, and has been a focus of protest by Native Hawaiians. The committee will also discuss spectrum management and the implementation of dual anonymous peer review within NASA’s Astrophysics Division, among other subjects. The next day, the committee will hear updates on the collapsed Arecibo radio telescope, the Nancy Roman and James Webb Space Telescopes, and the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, which is planned for release this spring.

In Case You Missed It

President Biden signing a series of executive orders on Jan. 20.

President Biden signing a series of executive orders on Jan. 20.

(Image credit – CSPAN)

Biden Signs Spate of Science-Related Executive Orders

President Biden signed 30 executive actions last week, many of which concern the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and other science-related matters:

  • One of Biden’s first actions was to halt the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization and appoint Anthony Fauci as head of the U.S. delegation to the organization. Biden’s first national security directive outlines additional global health security measures, including a requirement to plan for the establishment of a National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics.
  • Biden also took steps to implement his COVID-19 response strategy , signing orders aimed at accelerating vaccine delivery, improving testing and data collection, and promoting mask-wearing, including by requiring masks within federal buildings. Other orders expanded pandemic-related economic relief measures , such as student loan deferrals and the eviction moratorium.
  • Climate action was another top priority, with Biden initiating the reentry of the U.S. into the Paris climate agreement. In addition, he directed agencies to revise the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases, with interim metrics due within 30 days, and ordered a review of the Trump administration’s rules regulating emissions of methane and other pollutants.
  • Biden reversed several executive orders signed by President Trump concerning federal regulation, including a 2019 order that directed all federal agencies to eliminate “at least one-third” of the external advisory committees they have created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
  • Biden signed an executive order establishing a government-wide “equity agenda” and rescinded an executive order by Trump that restricted diversity and inclusion training by federal agencies and contractors.
  • Biden also began reversing a number of Trump’s immigration restrictions — including ending the ban on entry to the U.S. from specified countries, many of which have majority-Muslim populations, and restoring support for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy — which affected scientists alongside many others.

Scientist Arrest Sparks Outcry at MIT

On Jan. 14, the Department of Justice arrested MIT nanoengineering professor Gang Chen on charges of wire fraud and failing to disclose a foreign bank account. It specifically alleges that Chen did not disclose he was serving in several advisory roles for research institutions in China when applying for a Department of Energy research grant in 2017, and that he later did not report compensation received from participation in two Chinese talent recruitment programs. At a press conference, FBI agent Joseph Bonavolonta also asserted Chen “willfully defrauded [taxpayers] out of $19 million in federal grants by exploiting our system to enhance China’s research in nanotechnology,” referring to the amount he had received from various agencies since 2013. Reacting to the arrest, a group of MIT faculty members wrote a letter arguing that Chen’s actions were not nefarious and that the Justice Department’s characterization of his conduct represents a deep misunderstanding of international research collaborations. MIT professor Yoel Fink, an organizer of the letter, told FYI that about 160 verified MIT faculty have signed on so far and that he expects it will be publicly released in the coming days. MIT is funding Chen’s legal defense, and in a statement on the case MIT President Rafael Reif lamented that many MIT researchers of Chinese descent are reporting a “growing atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion.” Chen’s arrest is the latest in a series aimed at cracking down on failures to disclose connections to institutions in rival nations, particularly China. The Justice Department has reportedly considered creating a grace period for scientists to report previously undisclosed foreign funding, though some prosecutors have argued the move would undercut pending cases.

DOE and DOD Deepen Space R&D Cooperation

The Departments of Energy and Defense announced last week they have signed a memorandum of understanding that provides a framework for cooperation on space-related R&D in support of U.S. national security. As topics of mutual interest, the memo specifically highlights space nuclear power and propulsion , technologies connected to “industries of the future,” and autonomous vehicles, among other areas. The memo comes days after President Trump issued an executive order directing DOD to determine whether advanced nuclear reactors could help meet the department’s space power requirements and directing NASA to define needs for nuclear energy systems through 2040. In October, DOE and NASA signed their own memorandum of understanding that includes an emphasis on nuclear power and propulsion as one of an expanded number of areas for cooperation.

US Quantum Network Strategy Favors ‘Right-sized’ Testbeds

A panel of federal agencies with stakes in quantum information science released a report last week recommending actions to promote the development of quantum networking technologies. The report stresses that the potential applications of quantum networking extend well beyond the oft-cited example of quantum key distribution (QKD), a secure communications concept. It also states QKD “faces significant challenges” to implement in real-world settings, citing a recent statement by the National Security Agency, and adds, “QKD does not currently motivate the U.S. government to build large quantum networks; however, QKD can serve to validate the functionality of some subsystems.” Among their recommendations, the agencies propose the U.S. build “right-sized” testbeds that are of “minimum complexity or scope to answer the scientific and engineering questions in play.” They also support exploratory research on longer-distance networking platforms such as satellites to prepare the U.S. to pursue them swiftly in the event that “more strategic or compelling applications for space-based quantum networking emerge.”

Clean Power Plan Replacement Struck Down

On Jan. 19, a federal circuit court voided the Environmental Protection Agency’s Affordable Clean Energy rule , a measure regulating emissions from existing coal power plants that the Trump administration advanced in place of the far more stringent Clean Power Plan rule developed by the Obama administration. The court concluded that the replacement rule relies on a “tortured series of misreadings” of the statute underpinning EPA’s obligation to regulate carbon emissions. However, the ruling does not reinstate the Clean Power Plan, which was itself tied up in litigation at the conclusion of the Obama administration and never went into effect. Biden has not indicated whether he will seek to revive the Clean Power Plan specifically, though he has picked several of its architects to serve in his administration, including former EPA official Janet McCabe, whom he is nominating to serve as the agency’s deputy administrator. Although the Trump administration considered reversing Obama administration regulations for carbon emissions from new power plants, it ultimately declined to do so.

Events This Week

Monday, January 25

NSCAI: National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “Assessment of Strategies for Managing Cancer Risks Associated with Radiation Exposure During Crewed Space Missions,” kickoff meeting
(continues Tuesday)

NNSA: Public meetings on the Surplus Plutonium Disposition program environmental impact statement
(continues Tuesday)

Stimson Center: “Combatting Wildlife Crime and Reducing the Transmission of Zoonotic Diseases”
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

CSIS: “A Conversation with Army Futures Command General John M. Murray”
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

National Academies: “Laying the Foundation for New and Advanced Nuclear Reactors in the U.S.,” meeting two
11:00 am - 3:00 pm

National Academies: “Planetary Science Decadal Survey Panel on Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planets,” meeting 14
1:00 - 2:30 pm

NASA: Science Mission Directorate town hall
2:00 pm

Harvard University: “Scientific Espionage, Open Exchange, and American Competitiveness”
4:30 pm

Tuesday, January 26

NSF: Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Wednesday)

NASA: Small Bodies Assessment Group meeting
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “Chemical Engineering: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century,” meeting five
(continues Wednesday)

Carnegie Endowment: “Engaging China on Nuclear Arms Control”
9:30 - 10:30 am

Senate: Hearing to consider the nomination of Gina Raimondo to head the Department of Commerce
10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (253 Russell Office Building)

NRC: “Developing Options for a Regulatory Framework for Fusion Energy Systems”
12:30 - 4:30 pm

National Academies: “A Water Policy for the American People: Revisited”
1:00 - 2:00 pm

C2ES: “The Business Case for Ambitious, Bipartisan Climate Action”
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Wednesday, January 27

DOE: Public meetings on the Versatile Test Reactor draft environmental impact statement
(continues Thursday)

Senate: Hearing to consider the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be secretary of energy
9:30 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (106 Dirksen Office Building)

CSIS: “Trusting a COVID-19 Vaccine: The Role of the Media and Misinformation”
9:30 - 10:30 am

Carbon Capture Coalition: “Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Bill: A Breakthrough for Carbon Capture and Removal”
11:00 am

NASA: Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee meeting
11:00 am - 3:00 pm

SEJ: “2021 Journalists’ Guide to Energy and Environment”
1:00 - 3:00 pm

NASA: Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group meeting
1:00 - 5:00 pm

Beyond Earth: “Will Biden/Harris Leadership Bring Us Closer to Communities Beyond Earth?“
2:00 - 3:00 pm

Harvard Belfer Center: “Reflecting on U.S. Nonproliferation Efforts with Dr. Brent K. Park”
2:00 - 3:30 pm

Brookings Institution: “Addressing the Evolving Air and Missile Threat”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

EPA: Board of Scientific Counselors meeting
2:00 - 5:00 pm

AIP: “Trimble Public Lecture — Science in the Post-truth Era: A Decolonial Approach”
3:00 pm

NASA: Virtual Briefing on February Perseverance Mars Rover Landing
4:30 pm

Thursday, January 28

COSPAR: 43rd Scientific Assembly
(continues through Feb. 4)

National Academies: “Assessing the Physical and Technical Suitability of DOD Test and Evaluation Ranges and Infrastructure,” meeting two
(continues Friday)

NTIA: National Strategy to Secure 5G industry listening session
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Atlantic Council: “The Complexities of Unraveling U.S. Sanctions and Returning to the JCPOA”

12:00 - 1:00 pm

National Academies: “Radioactive Sources: Applications and Alternative Technologies”
1:00 - 3:30 pm

Baker Institute: “COVID-19, Climate Change, and Reaching Across the Aisle”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

MITRE: “Stopping IP Theft From China”
4:00 - 6:00 pm

Friday, January 29

National Academies: “Science, Society, and Development”
10:00 - 11:00 am

National Academies: “DOD Engagement with its Manufacturing USA Institutes Phase 2 Study,” meeting nine
11:00 - 12:00 pm

American Enterprise Institute: “Modernizing Congress: A Conversation with Former Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Tom Graves (R-GA)”
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

NIH: Council of Councils meeting
11:00 am - 5:00 pm

APS: “Possible Measures to Reduce the Nuclear Threat Under the Biden Administration and the New Congress”
12:00 pm

Bipartisan Policy Center: “COVID-19: Urgent Federal Actions to Accelerate America’s Response”
12:00 - 1:30 pm

National Academies: “Planetary Science Decadal Survey Panel on Mars,” meeting eight
12:00 - 6:00 pm

National Academies: “Planetary Science Decadal Survey Panel on Mercury and the Moon,” meeting nine
12:00 - 6:00 pm

National Academies: “Planetary Science Decadal Survey Panel on Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planets,” meeting 15
1:00 - 4:40 pm

JSPG/AAAS: “Optimizing U.S. Science Policy to Respond to Public Health Challenges”
3:00 - 4:15 pm

Monday, February 1

@BlackinSciPol: Black in Science Policy Week
(continues through Sunday)

Materials Research Society: U.S. Muon Workshop
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “Roundtable on Biomedical Engineering Materials and Applications”
8:30 am - 5:00 pm

National Academies: “Chemical Engineering: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century Education Team,” meeting two
2:00 - 5:00 pm

Wilson Center: “Low-Cost and Open Source Tools: Next Steps for Science and Policy”
3:30 - 5:00 pm

Opportunities

House Science Committee Hiring DOE Oversight Staff

The House Science Committee is hiring a professional staff member to support the committee’s oversight of the Department of Energy. Applicants should have experience with DOE’s energy R&D activities or with energy and related environmental policy more broadly. The ideal applicants will also have relevant Capitol Hill experience and an advanced degree or technical background. A cover letter and resume should be sent to SciResumes@mail.house.gov by Feb. 2.

USGCRP Advisory Committee Seeking Members

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates climate change research across 13 federal agencies, is accepting nominations for approximately 10 new members to join its standing advisory committee for a three year term. The committee is specially seeking nominees with expertise in climate modeling, human dimensions of global change; adaptation and mitigation approaches; observations, monitoring, and data management; decision support tools; and risk characterization and communication; among other areas. Nominations are due Feb. 12.

Science Policy Journal Announces Special Issue

The Journal of Science Policy and Governance is accepting submissions from students and early career researchers for a special issue in honor of the 75th anniversary of the report Science — The Endless Frontier. Three of the accepted authors will be awarded cash prizes and funds to help share their policy proposals with relevant audiences. Submissions are due April 4.

For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities . Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

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