Power Outage – By Varun Sivaram and Sagatom Saha May 17, 2017

Cutting Funding for Energy Innovation Would Be a Grave Mistake

LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS An array of solar panels in Victorville, California, March 2015.

The federal budget that U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled in March has attracted intense and diverse criticism. If enacted, it would slash funding for environmental protection, the arts, and public broadcasting while boosting military spending. But one category of proposed cuts has mostly flown under the radar. The budget would strip the United States of its position as the world’s leading funder of innovative energy technologies by eliminating over a third of public spending in that field and cutting nearly 70 percent of the funding in targeted technology areas, such as renewable energy.

That would be a mistake. Without strong government support for energy innovation, the United States will fall further behind in the global race to command the industries of the future, from next-generation batteries to meltdown-proof nuclear reactors. China already dominates the production of existing clean energy technologies, and it is ramping up its investments in new ones in order to extend its lead for decades. The United States cannot afford to move in the opposite direction.

Nor is this all. Ending international collaboration on developing new energy technologies would cost the United States diplomatic leverage among the many countries that value such collaboration, such as Japan, China, and India. And as one of us (Varun Sivaram) argued in an article coauthored with Teryn Norris in Foreign Affairs last year, limiting global climate change will be “expensive, complicated, and unpopular” without new, low-carbon energy technologies. The United States will be the best-positioned country in the world to develop those technologies, unless it cuts its funding for them.

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Here’s What You Need To Know About The Coming Fight Over Planned Parenthood Funding – SUSAN DAVIS January 7, 2017 6:00 AM ET

Signage is displayed outside a Planned Parenthood office in Peoria, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. aniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Signage is displayed outside a Planned Parenthood office in Peoria, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016.
aniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images


House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Thursday that Republicans will — once again — vote to cut off federal tax dollars for Planned Parenthood. They are planning to include the measure as part of a bigger upcoming bill to repeal pillars of Obamacare. This isn’t the first time that they have tried to pass this type of legislation — President Obama vetoed a similar bill last January.

But with a Republican president about to take office, the party now has the best chance in more than a decade to get it signed into law. They also have a powerful legislative tool on their side: special budget rules that will let them offer their proposal on a measure that only needs 51 votes — meaning a Democratic filibuster can’t stop it. But the path to victory might not be totally clear, as President-elect Trump’s position on abortion has wavered and allies of Planned Parenthood vow not to go down without a fight.

Here are four key points to keep in mind as the parties gear up for a fight on Capitol Hill:

1. Planned Parenthood is not directly funded by the government, but it does receive payment from federal funds

This is a key distinction. While Planned Parenthood is not funded directly by the government, it does receive payment and grants from federal programs. Planned Parenthood’s clinics provide a number of health services, mostly for low-income women. And so consequently, the organization often bills Medicaid for reimbursement. It also receives funding through Title X, a federal grant program for family planning services. However, neither Medicaid nor Title X fund the abortion services, which many people associate with Planned Parenthood. Medicaid does have some narrow exceptions for this in the case of rape, incest or life of mother.

And this gets at the heart of one of the nation’s longest running and divisive political debates — not only to what extent the federal government should direct its fiscal policy on women’s health matters, but whether abortion should be legal at all.

2. Planned Parenthood has become increasingly polarized: Targeted by the GOP, championed by Democrats

Planned Parenthood has been a political target for years. But recently, the partisan polarization has gone beyond abortion rights and into any federal funds going to the organization. Republicans have more vehemently opposed Planned Parenthood in recent years for facilitating the transfer of fetal tissue for medical research. Concern over this practice led Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa to recently refer several Planned Parenthood affiliates to the FBI and the Department of Justice for further investigation. The issue of tissue transfer also became the subject of a select committee review, which released a heavily critical report this week.

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White House makes last-ditch plea for opioid funding – By Sarah Ferris – 06/19/16 08:00 AM EDT

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The Obama administration is pressing GOP leaders to devote more funding to the fight against addiction before Congress sends its major opioids bill to the president’s desk this summer.

The head of the White House’s drug policy office, Michael Botticelli, joined budget director Shaun Donovan in a call to action Friday to approve a fully funded opioids bill – an approach that was backed by a majority of senators on the floor this week.

“Congress has been voting on various pieces of legislation related to the opioid epidemic, but so far has not provided the resources needed to make treatment available to everyone who wants it,” Botticelli and Donovan wrote in a blogpublished Friday afternoon.

The message from the White House came one day after the Senate voted to begin talks with the House to merge the two, mostly bipartisan opioids bills.

The same day, a majority of the Senate – 66 lawmakers – voted to support an earlier version the bill that did include funding. That move helps ensure that the issue of funding remains a part of negotiations even though most of the Republicans appointed to the conference committee don’t agree.

Among the five Senate Republicans put on the committee, three – including the No. 2 ranking senator – said they’d oppose funding in the bill.

From the start, Democrats – as well as some vulnerable GOP senators, like Rob Portman (R-Ohio) – have demanded more funding to help local health officials dealing with a mounting death toll from opioid overdoses.

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Obama is About to Give Private Space Companies a Big Break – by Clay Dillow NOVEMBER 24, 2015, 7:22 PM EST

The President is expected to sign a bill that would make the nascent commercial space industry exempt from regulation until 2023.

A bill currently awaiting President Obama’s signature would exempt private spaceflight companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic from most U.S. government oversight for the next eight years.

The legislation would extend a so-called “learning period” for the industry until at least 2023, keeping agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration from regulating commercial space companies as closely as the rest of the aerospace industry. The bill also covers ownership and extraction of resources in space (think: asteroid mining) and extends U.S. commitment to the International Space Station into the next decade. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act stems from an earlier 2004 bill that established a “learning period” for the industry that exempted it from government oversight and regulation while companies developed and tested new technologies. In 2004, the commercial spaceflight industry wasn’t doing a whole lot of flying, and Congress wanted to ensure that regulatory requirements didn’t keep them from doing so. That regulatory amnesty is set to expire in December, but the latest bill would extend the learning period until at least Oct. 1, 2023.

As such, people participating in commercial spaceflight—be they tourists, test pilots, or part of a crewed commercial mission—do so at their own risk. Human commercial spaceflight will be governed by informed consent, meaning that participants must sign a waiver confirming that they are aware of the dangers inherent in strapping themselves to the nose of a towering silo filed with rocket fuel.

The bill has already drawn praise from the private spaceflight sector, which will be free to continue pushing the envelope without regulators looking over its shoulders. Perhaps more importantly, keeping regulators at bay for a predetermined period will also keep the industry’s money spigot wide open.

“When you start regulating an industry, you can start driving away investment,” Marco Caceres, a senior analysts and director of space studies at aerospace consultancy Teal Group, says. “You don’t want to create too many regulations that keep investors from investing before you get fully developed as an industry.”

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