Issue Date: November 12, 2012
If the pundits are to be believed, the megastorm that blasted the East Coast late last month contributed to President Barack Obama’s reelection by pausing the presidential campaigns and putting Republican challenger Mitt Romney at a disadvantage.
Except in relation to energy, Obama and Romney talked little about science policy during the campaign. It is now worth revisiting their thinking regarding science, technology, research, and education, as laid out in responses to questions posed to the campaigns by C&EN Assistant Managing Editor for Government & Policy Susan Morrissey and Science Debate, a nonpartisan, volunteer-based grassroots organization that aims to engage the presidential candidates in a discussion of the urgent science and technology questions facing the country (C&EN, Oct. 8, page 32).
Because the economy will immediately hold much of Obama’s attention, it is up to scientists, researchers, and educators who support Obama’s position to hold the next Obama Administration’s feet to the fire to ensure that it follows through with what it promised.
Among Obama’s science-related policy positions are the following: increase public access to unclassified federally supported research; double the funding of key research agencies; prepare 100,000 science and math teachers to train 1 million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates over the next decade; make the R&D tax credit permanent; strengthen public health systems; reform food safety laws; and develop alternative energy sources, invest in clean energy, and increase fuel-efficiency standards.
With the defeat of the Republican challenger, the country may have to forego Romney’s science policy positions, unless concerned citizens clamor for them through their legislators.
Among Romney’s promises were the following: reduce the power of unaccountable regulators; require major regulations to receive congressional approval; impose a regulatory cap that prevents the addition of new regulatory costs; limit the costs agencies are imposing on society through regulation; open new areas to oil development, such as the waters off the East Coast and in Florida; and allow states to manage energy development within their borders.
Outside the answers to questions posed to the candidates by C&EN and Science Debate, the presidential campaign made almost no mention of climate change. The pundits have noted that Obama’s timidity on the subject this time is a sharp departure from his oratorical pronouncements four years ago. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-senator Obama spoke about his potential presidency as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Whatever one believes about climate change, weather events of Superstorm Sandy’s magnitude and devastation are increasing in frequency. As I mentioned in this space last week, one of our colleagues lost his house in Staten Island. It’s teetering right now, Senior Correspondent Alex Tullo tells me as I write in the afternoon of Nov. 7, when a nor’easter is threatening to strike New Jersey and New York. This storm could finally topple the structure, Tullo says. And the Sandy-stricken people of the two states will be battered again. Perhaps this one-two punch could catalyze a serious conversation about how to mitigate extreme weather and protect the populations in its path.
When Obama can turn his attention directly to questions of science, technology, research, and education depends on how quickly he can solve the most immediate challenge, the fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that are due to kick in on Jan. 2, 2013. Unless the President and Congress can work out a deal, the economy could tank again, observers say.
Which leads me to another aftermath of Superstorm Sandy: It preempted a column I would have written for last week’s issue about unemployed chemists (C&EN, Nov. 5, page 43). Their suffering is unlikely to end soon. We can’t afford another dive in the economy. President Obama and members of Congress, make sure it doesn’t happen.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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