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Government Concentrates

May 9, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 19

Appeals court blocks D.C. hazardous rail shipment law


Enforcement of a local Washington, D.C., law banning transportation of hazardous chemicals through the U.S. Capitol area was blocked by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in an opinion released on May 3. The appeals court issued a preliminary injunction stopping the law from going into effect and thereby overturned an earlier U.S. district court ruling that upheld the D.C. law. The law would require CSX Transportation, the owner of the rail line that runs through the city, to reroute some 11,000 shipments of hazardous chemicals, explosives, and flammable gases each year, according to the railroad. The appeals court decision is a victory for CSX and the federal government, which had joined the railroad in challenging the local law. The District has the option of taking the three-judge opinion to the full appeals court or returning to the district court to proceed with a hearing on the law, the legality of which is being challenged by CSX. The district court said the D.C. law was legal and needed because the railroad and federal government had failed to adequately protect the public from dangerous chemicals that could be released by a rail accident or a terrorist attack. The appeals court ruled, however, that only the federal government has railroad oversight authority and has issued rail security regulations through the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The District of Columbia, the court continued, may not step in because it believes that the federal and railroad actions are inadequate.

Senators urge increase for DOE Science Office

Sixty-eight senators have urged Senate Appropriations Committee leaders to increase next year's research funds for the Department of Energy Office of Science. In February, President George W. Bush requested $3.46 billion for fiscal 2006 for the Office, which was a 3.8% cut from 2005. The senators want an increase of 3.3% over last year, or 7% above the Administration's request. Although the Administration-proposed budget includes funding important to chemists--start-up of the spallation neutron source and further work at four nanoscale science research centers--the senators say that these projects will come at the expense of core DOE research programs, which are being cut. The senators predict that some 25% in reductions could be expected for personnel and operations at various DOE scientific facilities under the budget request. The senators warned that R&D cuts will hamper U.S. economic competitiveness, which is strongly based on technology and science. The effort was led by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Last year's DOE Science Office appropriation, the Senate signers noted, was a 4.3% increase above what the President had sought.

Estimates of Superfund gains criticized

EPA should not try to put a single dollar figure on all the benefits from the Superfund program to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites, the agency's Science Advisory Board says in a draft report. Earlier this year, EPA released a draft study stating that the Superfund program over the past quarter century provided benefits worth, on average, approximately $3.6 billion annually to human health, welfare, and the environment (C&EN, Feb. 14, page 24). The science advisers examining the draft estimates say the agency instead should provide data on "quantifiable impacts" from implementation of the Superfund law. These impacts include monetary benefits as well as other information, such as how Superfund liability has deterred the improper disposal of hazardous waste, they say. The advisers' draft report adds that some of the benefits included in EPA's estimate of Superfund's pluses should be omitted.

Recision of restrictive HHS policies sought

In a letter, minority members of the House Science Committee have asked Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt to rescind policies that restrict the ability of HHS scientists to consult for international organizations. Until April 2004, when the World Health Organization or other international groups wanted an HHS expert to consult, they could contact the person directly and invite him or her to attend a meeting (C&EN, Aug. 16, 2004, page 20). On April 15, 2004, that practice was ended. International organizations now must contact the HHS Office of Global Health Policy and ask for an expert, not by name, but by skill set. According to the official memo, HHS experts--even when participating in a meeting in a private capacity--must represent only the positions of the department and the U.S. government. The letter says these policies potentially endanger public health because they put up bureaucratic barriers to the free exchange of ideas. It asks why there is "an unprecedented drive for centralized command and control" when the world is dealing with disease outbreaks such as SARS and the avian influenza.


Stephen L. Johnson was confirmed by the Senate to the post of EPA administrator on April 28, in a 61-to-37 vote. Republicans overrode a procedural block, called a hold, placed on Johnson's nomination by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) (C&EN, April 18, page 10).

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice & Commerce & Related Agencies, has written to President George W. Bush urging him to move boldly to improve U.S. innovation by leading an effort to triple science and technology funding over the next decade.

The Association of University Technology Managers has released its summary report, "AUTM Licensing Survey: FY 2003." Published for the past 13 years, the report this year provides quantitative licensing activity information from 236 U.S. and Canadian universities, hospitals, and research institutions.



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