Today, the House of Representatives passed the flagship U.S. competitiveness and innovation bill, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (full text and summary), by a vote of 262 to 150.   The House Science & Technology (S&T) Committee press release is here and a full breakdown of the vote is here, including 245 Democrats and 17 Republicans in favor, 0 Democrats and 150 Republicans opposed.

The passage comes after the legislation was blocked twice within the past two weeks on the House floor, triggering significant alarm among the science and technology community.  The first incident on May 13th involved a “Motion to Recommit” attached to an anti-pornography amendment, introduced by S&T Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), which forced many members to vote to send the bill back to committee.  The second incident on May 19th occurred when the bill failed to reach the two-thirds majority required under procedures that were used, despite the inclusion of the anti-pornography amendment and a cut in the authorization level by nearly 50 percent.

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Senator Alexander (R-TN), who commissioned the original Rising Above the Gathering Storm with Senator Bingaman, delivered a speech today at the Tennessee Valley Corridor’s 2010 National Technology Summit.  He said the United Arab Emirates’ selection of a South Korean nuclear-power firm over nuclear industry giants Areva and Westinghouse to build its nuclear reactors should serve as a wake-up call for the U.S:

“…it was a complete shock last October when the United Arab Emirates passed over bids from the world’s two leading companies, Areva and Westinghouse, and awarded the contract to South Korea for $20 billion – half the original estimated price.  The French and the Japanese have gone back to the drawing boards to figure out what went wrong so they will be better able to compete next time.

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The Collapse of Competitiveness Policy?

The Collapse of Competitiveness Policy?
By Teryn Norris
Published by The Huffington Post

Last week, the flagship federal legislation for U.S. competitiveness containing broad support for science, technology, and advanced education – called the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 – collapsed in Congress after it was blocked from passage through the House, despite already being significantly weakened.

Enter the age of American polarization, where bread-and-butter competitiveness and innovation policy is subject to hyper-partisan politics and obstructionism, even in the face of rapidly rising global competition. America COMPETES, which was originally passed with strong bipartisan support under President Bush, may be yet one more casualty of today’s extreme political polarization, which according to one major study is at the highest level in over a century.

But beyond the issue of partisanship, this is an alarming wake-up call to how anti-government sentiment and neoliberal economic ideology – which seeks to discredit the role of federal investment in promoting technology innovation and growth – could combine forces and seriously damage our national innovation system in the years ahead.

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A press release from the World Wildlife Fund describes a new report entitled “Getting Back in the Game: U.S. Job Growth Potential from Expanding Clean Technology Markets in Developing Countries” that makes recommendations and analyzes current legislation from a perspective of energy investment and economic potential.  (See also coverage at Breakthrough Institute.)

The recommendations for a carbon price and paired with investment in the development of clean technology – particularly in developing countries – comes alongside a criticism of the American Power Act introduced by Sens. Kerry and Lieberman for including no provisions allocating funding or encouraging public investment in clean energy. According to the report:

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Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and co-author of our “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” report on clean energy competitiveness, testified last week before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure on how the government should support clean-tech manufacturing (in particular the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit):

The U.S. should not assume that the clean energy industry is ours for the taking. Nations like China, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Germany are already outcompeting U.S. manufacturers, not through some inherent comparative advantage, but through direct public investment in clean energy research and development, manufacturing, and market creation. As ITIF and The Breakthrough Institute documented in “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” Asia’s clean tech tigers are already on the cusp of establishing a first-mover advantage over the United States in the global clean tech industry…Overall, the report found the United States lagging far behind its economic competitors in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies.

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The Department of Energy reports that $38 million have been allocated to fund 42 university projects for nuclear research and development.

“We are taking action to restart the nuclear industry as part of a broad approach to cut carbon pollution and create new clean energy jobs,” said Secretary Chu.  “These projects will help us develop the nuclear technologies of the future and move our domestic nuclear industry forward.”

Among the research areas are the safe and cost-effective management of used fuel, new higher performance reactor technologies, and the aging and degradation behaviors of reactor materials.

A full list of the projects can be found here.

Below is a description of several types of projects:

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House Fails Again to Pass America COMPETES

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives failed in its second attempt to pass the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, a flagship bill for U.S. competitiveness containing broad support for science and technology innovation, including funding authorization for energy innovation and education programs.

The bill, which was re-introduced on the floor again today after getting derailed last week, was blocked by a minority of House Republican members despite the uncontroversial and bipartisan nature of the legislation. It was brought forward for a vote under the House’s suspension process, which forbids further amendments but requires a two-thirds majority, which the bill failed to meet on a vote of 261-148 (full breakdown available here).

The second failure comes despite major cuts to the authorization level to alleviate budget concerns – down from a five-year, $85.6 billion authorization to three-years and $48 billion – and inclusion of the anti-pornography amendment that derailed the effort last week.  “I understand the concern of many of my colleagues about the overall size of a five year authorization, and this reduction is my sincere attempt at compromising on an issue that is very important to me,” stated Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN). “The bill before us today includes an overall funding reduction of almost 50 percent from H.R. 5116, as introduced.”

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A new white paper out today from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The report examines the drivers of growth in clean technology in both countries; compares the competitiveness of wind and solar manufacturers; and reveals how the two countries are actually “joined at the hip” in the search for a cleaner energy future. It also highlights the role of innovation (alive and well in the US — for example, publicly-traded solar PV companies here are putting more funding into R&D than their Chinese counterparts are).

However, politics can introduce a wrinkle into this relationship; some are calling for protectionist trade measures, which the white paper cautions against. One conclusion: “A focus solely on trade-based winners and losers in the US-China clean energy relationship neglects the gains from both lower cost and higher quality clean energy technology. Both countries, and indeed all countries, will benefit as the US and China drive the cost of renewable energy below that of conventional energy.”

Instead, the study “finds there to be little zero-sum competition between the two nations and, in fact, the two countries will need to cooperate in many ways in order to meet their respective carbon reduction goals. (However, this is no excuse for America to delay. The report is highlighting the fact that US companies have a major role to play in the development of clean energy solutions — if they want. So let’s get moving!)

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The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 — a flagship proposal for U.S. innovation and competitiveness containing critical funding authorization for ARPA-E, Energy Innovation Hubs, clean energy STEM education, science R&D budgets, and more — was blocked on the House floor yesterday due to political point-scoring over a small and unrelated pornography issue.

“Six newly proposed programs encouraging science research and technological innovation are casualties of Thursday’s House fight over porn,” reports The Hill.  According to Science Insider, “members voted 292 to 126 to block passage of a 5-year authorization bill that would have provided healthy increases in the research and education budgets of the NSF and research programs at the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce.  Instead, a bipartisan majority voted for a 3-year freeze on the budgets for those agencies; it also cut all funding for DOE’s new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.”

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Rob Atkinson of The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Devon Swezey of the Breakthrough Institute commented on the cleantech race this week in a BusinessWeek article entitled “America’s Green IBusiness Week Logonnovation Problem.”

In the piece, the authors examine how energy R&D, and not just manufacturing, is following the investments to China, citing the world’s largest solar research facility built by Applied Materials and IBM’s $40 million lab for smart grid and other technologies as examples.  Statistics match the anecdotes as reports show the U.S. ranking 6th in the world in innovation-based competitiveness and last among 40 nations in progress over the last decade.  China, on the other hand, ranks first.  Atkinson and Swezey explain how government policy has played a role in these developments:

“The Chinese government has aggressively employed a comprehensive technology-based investment strategy to attract private investment and encourage leading companies to locate high-value research operations in the country. They have also erected a host of global welfare-reducing mercantilist policies to spur green-industry production and exports. These include turning a blind eye to intellectual-property theft, making access to Chinese markets contingent on U.S. firms expanding R&D activities in China, and blatantly manipulating currency values so as to subsidize exports of green products.”

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