Saturday, December 23, 2017

Do You Need Clean Air To Breathe? An Introduction To Environmental Justice

Do you need clean water to drink?  Or are you satisfied with the water which was given to the residents of Flint Michigan shown below:

I imagine your answer would probably be NO.  I would also imagine that you would like to breathe clean air and have clean fresh water to drink.  Especially, if other residents of the United States have access to both.  What about if a factory were to open up within a quarter mile of your house which will spew pollutants into the air?  Are you alright with that?  What if the prices of housing is cheaper near the air polluting plant?  What if the city gives you no choice in the matter?

These are all questions which highlight the need for 'Environmental Justice' for all residents of the United States. Who is in charge of ensuring that the citizens of the U.S. are provided clean healthy natural resources?  The answer is the Environmental Protection Agency.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting an 'environmental justice hero' -- Mustafa Ali -- who is shown in the picture below with me:

He is one of the founders of the 'environmental justice section' of the Environmental Protection Agency.  And up until March of this year, he worked hard to fight for justice under the banner of the EPA for 24 years.  With all of the proposed cuts to the EPA and the threats to the environment, Mustafa sent EPA Scott Pruitt a letter of resignation signaling that the time had come to move on.  Especially since the current administration has placed environmental justice on the back burner at the moment.

Currently, he is heading up ventures to spread the word about environmental justice in a variety of ways -- speaking, non-profit organizations, government panels, and various universities.  A brief biographical description of him can be found on the "Green 2.0" website formally known as the Green Diversity Initiative:

Mustafa Santiago Ali has been a National Speaker, Trainer and Facilitator on Social Justice and Environmental Justice issues for the past 17 years. During that time Mustafa has worked with communities on both the domestic and international front to secure environmental, health and economic justice. He currently serves as an Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Environmental Justice. He is also the Designated Federal Official for the A Workgroup on Nationally Consistent EJ Screening Approaches of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. EPA. Mustafa Ali served as a Brookings Institute Congressional Fellow in the Office of Congressman John Conyers in FY 2007-08. His portfolio as a Legislative Assistant focused on Foreign Policy in Africa and South America, Homeland Security, Health Care, Appropriations and Environmental Justice. Mr. Ali is a former instructor at West Virginia University and Stanford University in Washington. He guest lecturers at Universities and Colleges including, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Albany Law School and Howard University Law School.

 Additionally, he serves as the vice president of the "Hip Hop Caucus" on environmental issues which serves as a conduit from the Hip Hop community to the civic community to build strength and power in matters affecting the community at large -- i.e. community revitalization.  He is a true environmental hero and an ardent advocate for environmental justice for communities across the nation.  All advocacy participants owe a great deal to leaders such as Mustafa who pave the way and guide us in promoting growth and justice through change at various levels of the government.

Environmental Justice?

As I mentioned above, a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join other stakeholders (corporations, organizations, state and federal officials) downtown in Los Angeles for a day conference on Environmental Justice.  The event was hosted by the Southern California Air Quality Management District - with a mission stated below from the webpage:

SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, among the smoggiest regions of the U.S. We are committed to protecting the health of residents, while remaining sensitive to businesses.

The conference was the '3rd Annual Conference On Environmental Justice' as highlighted in the press release.  During the day, there were break out sessions in the morning and common panels in the afternoon.  I want to highlight a specific panel discussion which included the following: Mustafa Ali, Senator Nanette Barragan, and Senator Connie Leyva.

At the outset, Mustafa Ali was asked to define environmental justice and discuss broadly in terms the concept for change at the community level today.  First, he suggested that the audience look up the "17 Rules of Environmental Justice" to get an understanding of the principles under which environmental justice advocates operate under.  Here are 17 rules of Environmental Justice with the preamble as adopted on October 27th, 1991 in Washington D.C.:

Preamble WE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to insure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:
1) Environmental justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.
2) Environmental justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
3) Environmental justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
4) Environmental justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.
5) Environmental justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
6) Environmental justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.
7) Environmental justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
8) Environmental justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment, without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
9) Environmental justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
10) Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
11) Environmental justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.
12) Environmental justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and providing fair access for all to the full range of resources.
13) Environmental justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.
14) Environmental justice opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.
15) Environmental justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.
16) Environmental justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
17) Environmental justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth's resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to insure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.

Do any of the following rules sound unreasonable as demands?  Each of us deserve to live in a clean environment free of contaminants.  But as each of us know -- this is not the case for various parts of our nation today.  Mustafa Ali stated the obvious -- pollution is asymmetrical in terms of geographical regions across the nation.  More specifically, he alluded to the obvious that there exists environmental injustice which is occurring all over the nation and needs to be dealt with.  Additionally, while defining a problem, a solution would be the natural progression during such a discussion.  He stated very clearly that change has to come from the ground level up.

Change Starts At The Community Level?

As I mentioned above, the take home message of the panel above on which Mustafa Ali participated was that any change toward environmental justice must begin at the ground up.  Meaning with the members of each community.

What is going on at the EPA with regard to Environmental Justice?

Before this year, the environmental justice department was alive an well at the EPA.  Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spear headed the initiative to have the input of various environmental groups (and small movements) featured on the EPA website under the heading "Environmental Justice in Action".  Specifically, stories would be featured in a blog series -- starting with an introductory post by none other than Mustafa Ali -- which can be found here.

The video embedded on the blog series by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is featured below (less than 2 minutes in length):

Here is a link to the list of blog posts in the series "Environmental Justice in Action" offered on the archives of the EPA website.  The stories are truly inspirational to either the public or environmental advocates looking to promote change.  Previous posts have appeared on this site which were written in part by or have a large component (in the form of a letter or excerpt) by iconic activists like Ralph Nader.  Ralph Nader promotes the realization that change can happen from the ground level up too.  Scroll down to the end of the blog post to access former blog posts discussing the need for greater community engagement.

The panel mentioned above at the Environmental Justice Conference with honored guests Senator Nanette Barragan, Senator Connie Leyva, and Mustafa Ali could be summed up as follows.  Currently in Washington D.C. there is a war with environmental justice advocates.  The current administration is pushing the deregulation of regulations at a record pace.  Both Senators said that the workings in Washington D.C. were not as 'grave' as it appeared to be on the news.  Updates were that the current administration was defunding certain federal agencies which is not great -- to shift funding to privatization.  The shift is away from big government to privatization.  Although, such a shift does have 'blow back' -- which is starting to appear.

The saving grace is that slowly there is a movement building.  A movement that needs to be fueled by the local community groups across the nation.  We are not far enough (in terms of damage) where a "point of no return" has occurred.  But moving forward, advocates across the nation need to bring to the attention of their elected officials the need to address environmental injustices in their respective area.  In order to promote large scale change, the public needs to organize and rise up to stand up against officials and demand justice.  What justice?


Each of us deserve to live in a neighborhood with clean natural resources available.  Additionally, each of us deserve to breathe clean air.  We should not have to compromise with 'big business' the quality of our air in the neighborhood and community around us.  If these basic resources and geographical regions clean of contaminants are not available, then public citizens need to demand these needs from elected officials.  Look around yourself in your region.  Are there any gross violations of environmental justice?  You may not even realize the contamination occurring around you.

The blog post above served as an 'introduction' to environmental justice.  Future posts will be written with greater depth.  First, a proper definition and an initial introduction is needed to let the idea of 'environmental justice' to sink in.  With a proper definition in mind, each of us are enabled to now move forward and recognize injustices around us. 

Related Blogs:

Environmental Entrepreneurs Weigh In On Repealing The Clean Power Plan

French President Macron Organizes Climate Conference With Pledges Of Trillions Of Dollars For Climate Risk Management From World Organizations

Ralph Nader Asks "Will the Federal Civil Service Defend Us?"

Activist Ralph Nader Gives Politicians Advice Post Hurricane Harvey

Activist Ralph Nader Calls To Each Pillar Of Society - A Call To Action.

Environmental Groups Question Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Cuts

What Does An Official Letter From The White House Requesting Funds For Hurricane Harvey Look Like?

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

Risks To The World By Activist Ralph Nader

Who Is In Charge Of The Department Of Energy?

Why Would A President Choose To Deregulate The Environmental Protection Agency?

What Does America Drinking Water Look Like With Little-to-No Regulation?

What Promises Did President Trump Make Science Research During His Campaign?

Can The President Prevent The Public From Learning About Scientific Research???

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How Do LED Christmas Lights Work?

Pre-Merry Christmas!  Christmas is practically upon us.  If you have been outside, then you have undoubtedly noticed that certain houses and buildings have 'Christmas lights' draped on their structures.  A transition is taking place in the 'lighting industry' from a traditional incandescent bulb toward a 'light-emitting diode'.  Light-emitting diode sounds futuristic.  And in some forms appears to be futuristic due to the narrow bandwidth of light -- precise wavelength.  Some people complain that the traditional 'glow' is gone with the transition from 'incandescent lighting.'  I would say to that statement: hold on -- technology is improving at light speed.

Traditional Christmas Lights

As I mentioned above, the traditional "Christmas lights" were a glass bulb and bulky among other difficulties associated with them.  One major hassle associated with setting up Christmas lights was the inspection of each light bulb on a string of lights in order to determine the culprit (faulty light bulb) before lighting the string.  The laborious process was time consuming and resulted in great frustration.  Although, after hanging Christmas lights up, the seasonal glow that is felt upon viewing them is inexplainable and worth all of the trouble.

How is the 'Glow' generated in old Christmas lights?

Traditional Christmas tree lights are incandescent light bulbs.  Incandescent light bulbs have dominated the market over the last century.  Here is a picture of an 'incandescent Christmas light bulb' shown below:

As you can see, there is a wired that is asymmetrical (wounded irregularly) in winding in the center of the glass bulb.  The operation of the bulb is described as follows:

The incandescent light bulb or lamp is a source of electric light that works by incandescence, which is the emission of light caused by heating the filament. They are made in an extremely wide range of sizes, wattages, and voltages.

As current travels through the wire, heat due to resistance is generated.  Eventually, the heat is given off as light.  There is still heat given off too.  The warm glow produced by the incandescent light bulb remains to be a large challenge for Light-Emitting Diode makers.  Although, the downside of using incandescent light bulbs is the heat loss associated with the operation.  This could be problematic with lights on a Christmas tree.  The heat from the incandescent light bulbs dries the Christmas tree out.  In the extreme case, the heating could cause a fire.

The above explanation was part of the motivation to produce a more efficient light bulb that does not over heat with continued operation over a long period of time.   Despite the move toward greater use of Light-Emitting Diode lights, the traditional incandescent light is still in wide use today.

Light-Emitting Diodes?

Technology has improved greatly with the introduction of the semiconductor.  Other spin-off technologies are numerous (and I do not need to go into them).  Anyways, typically, when the technology is discussed, the usual turn-off of attention is achieved on the part of the listener.

For example, new Christmas lights are made of "light-emitting diodes".  The "wikipedia" contains the following definition of LED:

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a two-lead semiconductor light source. It is a p–n junction diode, which emits light when activated.[4] When a suitable voltage is applied to the leads, electrons are able to recombine with electron holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence, and the color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photon) is determined by the energy band gap of the semiconductor.
An LED is often small in area (less than 1 mm2) and integrated optical components may be used to shape its radiation pattern.[5]
Appearing as practical electronic components in 1962,[6] the earliest LEDs emitted low-intensity infrared light. Infrared LEDs are still frequently used as transmitting elements in remote-control circuits, such as those in remote controls for a wide variety of consumer electronics. The first visible-light LEDs were also of low intensity and limited to red. Modern LEDs are available across the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness.
Early LEDs were often used as indicator lamps for electronic devices, replacing small incandescent bulbs. They were soon packaged into numeric readouts in the form of seven-segment displays and were commonly seen in digital clocks.
Recent developments in LEDs permit them to be used in environmental and task lighting. LEDs have many advantages over incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved physical robustness, smaller size, and faster switching. Light-emitting diodes are now used in applications as diverse as aviation lighting, automotive headlamps, advertising, general lighting, traffic signals, camera flashes, and lighted wallpaper. As of 2016, LEDs powerful enough for room lighting remain somewhat more expensive, and require more precise current and heat management, than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output. They are, however, significantly more energy efficient and, arguably, have fewer environmental concerns linked to their disposal[citation needed].

As mentioned in the excerpt above, the LED has taken over the world to replace conventional light sources.   One major reason is the large amount of energy saved by operating a LED compared to a traditional light bulb.  Additionally, the LED Christmas light has a more durable coating and therefore is more stable and longer-lasting.

After reading the excerpt above (first paragraph), you might still have an issue with understanding the operation of the LED.  In a recent article 'Compound Interests' titled "The Chemistry Of Lights" a simple explanation is put forth regarding the operation and design of the LED light.  I am a big believer in "not re-inventing the wheel."  Therefore, I love to share good explanations when I come across one.

Here is an excerpt regarding the operation and structure of the "light-emitting diode":

LEDs consist of two layers of semiconducting material. The layers are “doped” with impurities, which is to say that atoms of elements other than those originally in the semiconducting material are mixed in. This doping can create different types of layers: p-type layers and n-type layers. The n-type layer has a surplus of electrons, whereas the p-type layer has an insufficient number of electrons, and as such has what are referred to as electron ‘holes’: positions in atoms where an electron could be, but isn’t.

When a current is applied to the LED, the electrons in the n-type layer and the electron ‘holes’ in the p-type layer are driven to an active layer between the two. When the electrons and electron ‘holes’ combine, energy is released, and this is seen as visible light. While this explains how light is produced, we have to look a little more closely at what’s going on to explain how different colours can be obtained.

The colours obtained from LEDs are determined by the semiconducting materials used. As you can see in the graphic, there’s not just one material used for all of the different colours, but a range of possibilities. By using different materials, and adding different impurities to these materials, we can change the size of the band gap – that is, the size of the energy difference between the n-type layer and the p-type layer. The bigger this band gap, the shorter the wavelength of light produced by the LED. So for a red LED, a relatively small band gap is required. For blue LEDs, a larger band gap is needed.

Simply beautiful!

 What does such a structure look like?

That is a trick question since the title of the blog post is Christmas lights!  Below is a diagram taken from the 'wikipedia' page for 'LED':

The image above appears to resemble the traditional Christmas lights that are seen draped on houses and buildings around town.  From the outside, this may be true.  Although, on further inspection of the image above, there is no 'filament' as we saw above in the picture of the incandescent light bulb.

Why not?

According to the two descriptions of the Light-Emitting Diodes above, the structure is slightly different compared to an incandescent light bulb.  Remember terms 'p-n junction' etc?  A structure of an LED was taken from 'wikipedia' for clarity and is shown below:

Source: S-kei

According to the picture above, if the current (in the form of electrons) travels through the 'n-type' material toward the interface of the two types of material 'p-n junction' (in the center at the boundary of blue and yellow), the corresponding 'hole' moves toward the 'p-n junction' from the blue side.  At the boundary layer, the two are combined.  The combination of the electron and the positive 'hole' at the junction corresponds to light emitted.

Furthermore, if the 'p-n junction' is changed (made larger or smaller) the frequency of light (color) is changed too.  Therefore, the light given off at the 'p-n junction' is precise.  As I mentioned above, one downfall of the LED compared to the incandescents light bulb is the lack of 'glow'.  The factor which gives the light a glow is the 'broad spectrum' of wavelengths (mixture of colors).  In an LED, the interface -- i.e., 'p-n junction' is precisely tuned to give a sharp and very well defined frequency.

The above description was off of the site 'Compound Interests' whose design to display information is in the form of a 'poster' like the one shown below:

I chose to expand on the description given in this poster.  The producer of the above infographic did such a great job, that I felt the need to share this with the public at large.  This infographic went out to the science community last week.  Here are some closing thoughts...


The movement toward LED technology is on the rise.  There are benefits toward using either type of Christmas light.  LED lights give off a very well defined wavelength (or frequency) of light which results in a crisp sharp light.  Whereas the traditional incandescent lights give off the warm 'glow' made up of a few different color components.  Secondly, there is less heat given off with an LED light compared with the incandescent light bulb.  Which results in greater efficiency.  Finally....

As you travel the world during the holidays, hopefully, your viewing of the many different Christmas lights will be enhanced by this blog post.  Try to identify which Christmas lights use LED technology and which use incandescent light technology.  I hope that each and everyone of you have a wonderful and safe Christmas.  Cheers!

Until Next time, Have a great day!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Teachers Are Stressed During The Semester: Trust Me -- I Am Married To One!

Students typically feel during the semester that they are the only ones who are "stressed out".  Well, I can safely say that this is NOT TRUE by any measure.  How do I know?  Because I am married to a professor of chemistry.  Here are a couple of end of the semester observations for students to ponder.

Professors Don't Care About Students?

I hear this often while walking the halls of the university I work at.  This could not be further from the truth.  I often find myself smiling and chuckling in disbelief when I hear a student express these views among others.  The reality of the situation is that 'preparation' for class (course curricula - tests, assignments, grading) takes an enormous amount of time.  Time off of the professor taking part in a weekend bicycle ride.  Time off from attending a favorite sports event.  Time off from attending family events during the semester due to conflicts with tests needed to be graded and turned around to the students.  Now, you might be thinking the following after reading this: "That is poor time management."  Nope, you would be wrong again.

A typical test with multiple choice questions along with a couple of work out questions (free response) can take hours (3-6) on a great day.  Yep, say goodbye to that movie you had planned to chill and watch on a Saturday afternoon on a busy weekend.  Not to mention, the time needed to work the test out and come up with answers.  How about grading?

A quiz might take a couple of hours to grade depending on the length and type of questions.  Writing assignments can take exponentially longer depending on the feedback that the professors would like to give each student.  I am not writing this to gather sympathy for instructors in any way.  I would like to call the students attention to the "hidden time" spent on preparation and execution of a 'good class' during any given semester.  Students might be motivated to study a little harder if they knew that their respective instructor is currently working on material for their class at the same time they are studying.

This time does not include the time spent at the 'copier' machine to get a copy of the exam or worksheet to each student.  Teachers need to rest too.  Also, teachers need to eat right and save energy to stand and talk before your class multiple times a week.  The time spent to prepare and energize oneself is separate from any other source of energy drain -- such as life problems - bills, work, family, health, etc.

Teachers Need Sleep?

Sometimes students send e-mails in the middle of the night expecting the professor to respond or notice before class the next day.  Well, big surprise, professors are human -- without sleep they will die too.  Do professors dream?  Yes again.  My wife has complained about waking up to nightmare which typically involve the following situations during the semester:

1) Not being prepared for a class lecture
2) Not being on time to the class and missing the class
3) Showing up to the wrong class
4) Over sleeping.
5) Not accommodating all students.
6) Forgetting a deadline to turn in administrative paperwork.

These are just a few of the many stressful dreams/nightmares which have occurred in our house during a semester.


Again, why am I telling you this information at the end of the semester?  The reason is to have you realize (ponder over the information during break), that professors are humans too.  Furthermore, they are extremely concerned about your well-being.  More than you think.  Their stress levels are much higher on average than students.  The same is true of the staff -- I can speak to that -- since I am a staff member.  But, over all , we want you (the student) to succeed and go onto be successful in life.  In fact, there is no other hope than your continued success on our mind.

The next time that you find yourself wondering the following about a professor you have for a class:

1) Does he/she care about my well-being?
2) Does he/she understand the stress that I am under currently?
3) Would he/she understand and excuse me if my situation was made known to them?

The answer to the first is a big YES.  The answer to the second is that each professor was once a student and expressed similar views as you are expressing currently (in a state of frustration).  Each professor cannot understand the totality of your situation -- since they are not you.  Each person is unique and has a unique life.  We are not clones.  The answer to the 3rd question is that if a student (you) were to go talk to them during office hours, your situation would be better understood.  That does not necessarily mean that the desired outcome on your behalf will be displayed.  Understanding and showing empathy for a given situation (which entails a series of choice - life choices or obstacles) is completely possible.    Although, ultimately, you are responsible for your education.  Remember though that each professor is 'batting for your' success in life.

With this in mind, have a great vacation and see you next semester.  Cheers!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

French President Macron Organizes Climate Conference With Pledges Of Trillions Of Dollars For Climate Risk Management From World Organizations

I woke up yesterday morning and checked my e-mail to find the following summary regarding a conference which spanned the last couple of days hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron called 'One Planet' -- by Politico Energy:

MAKE OUR PLANET GREAT AGAIN? Leaders, moguls, celebrities, activists and more descend on the French capital today to mark the second anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. There will be plenty of photo ops and inspirational rhetoric, but French President Emmanuel Macron hopes the One Planet Summit will add financial meat to the bones of the landmark accord. Expect new and expanding coalitions and initiatives, particularly aimed at shoring up financial aid, peaking emissions, ditching coal and helping countries already coping with the effects of climate change.
In a Monday interview with CBS News, Macron said Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris accord actually boosted momentum for climate action and slammed the U.S. withdrawal. "It's extremely aggressive to decide on its own just to leave, and no way to push the others to renegotiate because one decided to leave the floor," the French president said. "I'm sorry to say that. It doesn't fly."
Opening the funding spigots: Nearly 1,200 companies aim to align their emissions reduction plans with the Paris agreement by 2019, and 118 have committed to get all of their electricity from renewables (enough demand to power Ukraine), the We Mean Business Coalition announced today. In addition, 54 global companies from different industries put out a joint call on Monday for framework conditions that lay the foundation for a pathway toward limiting the temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Domestically, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation said Monday that it will donate $600 million over a five-year period from 2018 to 2023 to nonprofits working on climate change solutions. And former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will announce that 237 companies, with a combined market capitalization of over $6.3 trillion, have committed to voluntary recommendations on climate disclosures.

Naturally, this warmed my heart to hear the beautiful words of 'green investment' -- which entails incorporating 'climate risk' into their investment portfolios.  Renewable energy is the best alternative to mitigate the risk of climate change.  I clicked on the links provided in the e-mail and found former New York Billionaire Mayer Michael Bloomberg  speaking on stage about the state of the world. One quote that stood out from Michael Bloomberg regarding climate change is as follows:

If we cannot measure it, then we cannot manage it...

Awesome. President Macron of France called on nations to ensure that large players (corporations and governments) call out entities who are not engaged in divestment toward 'green energy'.  Over the last couple of days, the participants of the summit have come up with '12 commitments' -- which were unveiled on Dec. 12, 2017 -- representing the needed steps forward toward a renewable future.

Here is the video of the 4 hour Plenary Session filled with great commitments and needed actions on various parts of the world:

In attendance from the United States along with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg were innovators in philanthropy -- Bill Gates and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who are driving investment into the future of the renewable energy world.  Major philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Arnold Schwarzenegger have the power and influence to get further momentum from large investors like Sir Richard Branson -- who already has an initiative aimed at reducing our carbon footprint called "Carbon War Room".   The Carbon War Room is a nonprofit organization aimed at shifting future investments toward renewable energy or cleaner energy away from fossil fuels in hopes of reducing the worlds overall 'carbon footprint'.  Here is an excerpt from the website 'Virgin Unite':

Carbon War Room was co-founded in 2009 by Richard Branson and a team of like-minded entrepreneurs wanting to speed up the adoption of market-based solutions to climate change.
In December 2014, Carbon War Room (CWR) merged with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) – a US-based NGO, dedicated to transforming global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future –and together, they work across all energy sectors to accelerate the energy transition and reduce carbon emissions.
RMI brought more than 30 years of thinking, analytical rigor and breakthrough insight, while CWR brought over five years of entrepreneurial action. Together RMI-CWR engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to make a cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to renewables. 

The initiatives and environmental areas spanned by the Carbon War Room are wide as stated on the 'Wikipedia' page:

CWR has various initiatives in operation including Shipping Efficiency, Green Capital, Renewable Jet Fuels and Smart Island Economies.[4]
The focus of CWR includes these major environmental areas: Agriculture, Energy Supply, Forestry, Industry, Buildings, Transport and Waste Management.

Success with all of these initiatives is already on the horizon.

The take home message from the conference in Paris was that money is being gathered in the form of momentum to fund a transition from fossil fuels to a green energy future in the years to come.  The transition is already taking place by market forces as highlighted in a video from a recent article in 'CNN' titled "France's Macron announces first 'Make our Planet Great Again' winners" shown below (which is less than 2 minutes in length):

As stated in the video, the United States will have the opportunity to re-engage with the Paris Agreement at any time.  Especially, since the levels of greenhouse gas emission reductions are completely arbitrary and chosen by the respective nation at any given time.  What is important for the world given that the United States President has announced the U.S. withdrawal is to have these various conferences convene and hear commitments being voiced to reinforce the marketplace - i.e. investors both on Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

Earlier posts which can be found below highlight the reality that there exists real dollar investments for sustainable energy (green energy, clean energy, etc.).  The reality just needs to percolate to the entire world over time.  Given the resistance is diminishing over time, the market forces will undoubtedly continue (slowly) to drive our investments toward a cleaner energy future.  Education is a key factor in spreading the word among the citizens of the world of this reality.  Over time, each person will come to realize the transition toward cleaner energy as a friend rather than a threat.  Change takes time.

Related Blog Posts:

Environmental Entrepreneurs Weigh In On Repealing The Clean Power Plan

Trump Administration's Enthusiasm For Coal Energy At Bonn (Germany) Is Met With Disappointment

Paris Climate Agreement Is A Start Toward The Renewable Energy Future

World Goes Left, While Trump Leads Right - On Climate - Why?

Trump Goes Right On Paris Agreement, Part Of U.S. And World Head Left

President Trump's Understanding of the Paris Agreement

What Is Going To Be Discussed At The G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany?

A Good Start: Republicans Accept Climate Change As Real

There Is No Climate Debate -- Scientific Facts Have Settled The Issue?

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

Republicans Endorse Carbon Tax For Climate Change? Wow

What Does Testifying Before Congress Look Like For Secretary of Energy Rick Perry?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ralph Nader Asks "Will the Federal Civil Service Defend Us?"

When President Trump assumed the Office of the Presidency, there were inevitable changes which were going to be made.  Part of the inevitable changes were due to campaign promises made during the prior year and a half.  Whereas others were based on the notion of shrinking the government workforce in order to save money.  Several Federal Agency officials were immediately let go - told that their services were no longer needed.

In the beginning, came the stripping of all scientific language from Federal Agencies or restricting access to scientific data -- as illustrated in my previous post.  Access was frozen to scientific data -- data payed for by the public tax payers money -- WOW.  Next, was a series of restructuring, some of which is still being accomplished.  While other restructuring efforts by agencies have met considerable opposition -- have since been dropped (i.e. defunding or shutting down the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy to name just one major example).  ARPA-E is a major research (basic research arm) of the government and should stay in tact - Congress rightly weighed in and decided to keep the Agency.

Throughout the year thus far, I have been asking myself the following question:

What adverse effect will this paring down of the federal workforce have on our economy?

Various journalists throughout the year have offered ideas to the adverse effect.  One such idea is that the government is still running on the 'high' of the Obama administration and will do so for as long as possible.  In an earlier account from the news, employees at the State Department were taking 2-3 hour lunches while leaving early since the Trump Administration effectively had little or no work for them to do.  Furthermore, the office managers have been non-existent since there are still thousands of jobs - GONEThis is not to mention the jobs which require presidential nominations -- which have been slow to fill.  What does a person make of this news?

What are we to think about the state of our 'Federal Civil Servants'?

One person who has considerable knowledge of these issues is the iconic activist Ralph Nader.  I receive his newsletter which is filled with though-provoking questions and excerpts periodically.  With the current disparity in government services, I could not help but think back to his post earlier this year in August.  Here is the letter in full by Ralph Nader discussing the erosion of Federal Services:

Will the Federal Civil Service Defend Us?
As the Trump wrecking crew ramps up its destructive campaign against federal health and safety protections and social services for impoverished, disabled and vulnerable people (young and old) the latest targets of their ire are the federal civil servants who faithfully keep our government functioning here and abroad.
Mind you, the Trump wrecking crew is not going after gigantic corporate welfare programs, giveaways, bailouts and subsidies to big business. Nor are the Trumpsters going after wasteful, inflated government corporate contracts or massive billing frauds on Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs. These egregious examples of crony capitalism, so disliked by conservatives and progressives alike, seem untouchable. While disgraceful, this is not surprising; many of Trump’s nominees benefitted mightily from this cronyism before coming to Washington and Trump still benefits due to his refusal to divest.
Given this state of corporatist mayhem, the important question is: Will the federal civil service hold against lawless, dangerous non-enforcement of the laws and arbitrary suspensions of ongoing programs to protect the people from corporate assaults on their safety and economic wellbeing?
These are tough times for career civil servants who have given their all to do the right thing and make government serve the people (If you doubt this, just read the new book American Amnesia by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson).
Consider civil servants’ anguish. If they keep doing their job, they’re going to be pushed to retire or be marginalized. If they do as they are illegally or wrongfully ordered to do, they are going against their conscience and undermining their oath of office.
The oath of office taken by federal civil servants is not to the president or to their cabinet secretary. It is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution defines the work role for federal employees, (according to the Office of Personnel Management [OPM]) “to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty”.
To further define their obligations, the Code of Ethics for US Government Service has declared that civil servants must “put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party or government department.”
Top civil servants are being told to freeze what they are doing or reverse course, suppressing science and take down scientifically informed websites (such as those on calamitous climate change) and suspend law enforcement –  all under the direction of Trump’s cabinet lackeys who are  openly bent on serving the Fortune 500 corporations, not the Constitution. Many of these public servants are quitting rather than violate their code of ethics.
In March, as the EPA wrecking crew chief, Scott Pruitt, moved to let corporations pour more poisons into your air, water, soil and food, the head of the Environmental Justice Office, Mustafa Ali, quit. Last week, the highly-regarded Elizabeth Southerland, the director of science and technology in the EPA’s Office of Water, resigned. She said that Pruitt and Trump, who are pushing a 31% cut in the agency’s already strained budget, are abandoning “the polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations.”
Former Secretary of State (and Republican), Colin Powell, in an Op-Ed published in May for The New York Times, denounced the disabling proposed cuts that hollow out the work of diplomats and aid workers who advance peace and critical assistance to poor families in underdeveloped countries. He warned about creating “a vacuum that would make us far less safe and prosperous.” Almost certainly, in the coming months, scientists in the Food and Drug Administration will be told to back off and let inadequately tested drugs go to market for the drug industry’s gouging profits. Other civil servants will have their judgments repressed when they recommend recalling defective motor vehicles, prohibiting clear cutting in our national forests, enforcing civil and voting rights, removing certain pesticides from our food, issuing ready-to-go safety standards for travelers, enforcing safeguards for nursing home residents and implementing proper nutritional school meal recipes for children.
The Trumpsters actually want to have the best and most experienced public servants to quit. They are already retaliating against civil servants who speak truthfully of the harm to innocent people being caused by the grisly policies championed by the corporate paymasters.
Fortunately, there are outside groups already challenging in federal court the lawless Trump regime under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Freedom of Information Act and other violated federal laws. They are also defending harassed civil servants who try to bring their conscience to work.
These citizen groups – Public Citizen (see, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (see, The Government Accountability Project (GAP, see, and numerous other organizations, including civil service retirees, are working daily to remind Trump’s tyrants that our country remains one under the “rule of law” on behalf of, by and for the people.
Those ideals need the cutting edge of organized citizens and the larger backing of focused public outrage putting heat on members of Congress. Both between and during elections, an organized and motivated public can put a stop to this vast takeover of our government by the avaricious corporate supremacists.
Remember, we vastly outnumber them. It’s easier than we are led to think when “we the people” decide to show up.

Wow!  The letter above seems to indicate that the 'Federal Civil Service' is in quick decline -- which is true to an extent.  President Trump has mentioned that he believes that the government has been running very inefficiently.  The only issue that I have with his statement is that he lacks the experience (in government) to make that statement.  Conservative thinkers tend to agree that he is the 'Performer-In-Chief.'  He lacks the experience of knowing how to downsize the government.  Activists Ralph Nader and others who have dedicated their entire life to trying to undue wrongs brought about special interests groups understand this and are a saving grace.  He has been a true leader in 'gathering up' support with his tireless activism in which he engages daily in.

The government has not necessarily been downsized, so much as just a bunch of unfilled positions.  How this turns out in the near future will be interesting to see.  The current status quo cannot keep going.  How long this lasts -- is anyone's guess.  I do know that an improperly staffed government without regulatory enforcement is dangerous to the public's interest, safety, and welfare.  Regardless of partisan politics, each American deserves access to clean water and nutritious food along with resources to maintain a 'good lifestyle' -- no not a rich lifestyle -- moderation.  At the very least, one would hope that the members of congress would provide this by voting to support Federal agencies to provide the very least amount of resources which affect all of us.

Last but not least, I would like to thank each civil service employee still working in Federal Agencies to enforce regulatory procedures to ensure that each of us have access to safe and high quality resources.  Thank you for your continuous service.  Thank you for working in hostile environments to support safety for the American people.  Hang in there.  Life will get better.

Related Blogs:

Activist Ralph Nader Gives Politicians Advice Post Hurricane Harvey

Activist Ralph Nader Calls To Each Pillar Of Society - A Call To Action.

Environmental Groups Question Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Cuts

What Does An Official Letter From The White House Requesting Funds For Hurricane Harvey Look Like?

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

Risks To The World By Activist Ralph Nader

Who Is In Charge Of The Department Of Energy?

Why Would A President Choose To Deregulate The Environmental Protection Agency?

What Does America Drinking Water Look Like With Little-to-No Regulation?

What Promises Did President Trump Make Science Research During His Campaign?

Can The President Prevent The Public From Learning About Scientific Research???

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Coal Magnate Murray Shames Fossil Fuel Industry For Being "Forward Thinkers" For Energy

Typically the fossil fuel industry has not been given credit for being "forward thinkers" into the future of energy.  Although, over the last few years, the news has reported on 'divestment' from corporations who had large assets of investment into the fossil fuel industry.  This caused outrage among  university students whose university had endowments with heavy investment into fossil fuels.  According to 'Inside Climate News', the year 2015 represented the spread of divestment went mainstream and caught fire to become a 'hot topic issue' in the news.  Still to this day, environmental organizations are still pushing divestment from supporting the fossil fuel industry among various countries (and Nations) around the world.  D12 is a protest which will unfold on December 12 in Paris (France) with the following mission:

On the morning of 12 December 2017, an artistic mobilization will take place in Paris to send the message that Climate Finance means ending subsidies and investments for fossil fuels. Two days before, people from around the world on the frontlines of fossil fuel projects and climate change will testify in a People's Tribunal on the edge of Paris.

The response among the fossil fuel industry has been to recognize publicly that climate change is real.  Furthermore, to be supportive of changes which move the nation toward a 'carbon tax' to motivate the move toward 'clean energy'.  That in no way means that the fossil fuel industry is going away.

Although, denial of climate change is over and these organizations need to start coming around toward supporting the investment into 'renewable energy' 'sustainable development' in the energy sector.  This was evident in the support letters I made available in the blog post earlier this year just before President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement.

With this being said, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still supporting businesses like the coal industry by repeatedly trying to repeal the Clean Power Plan.  Now, the coal industry is accusing the oil and gas industry of being 'enemies' of the fossil fuels for looking forward into the future.  Last Friday, I received the following message with the name "Murray Energy" incorporated into the e-mail from 'Politico Energy' as follows:

MURRAY LABELS OIL GIANTS 'ENEMIES' OF FOSSIL FUELS: Three of the major oil and gas corporations are "enemies" of fossil fuels because of their past advocacy for climate action, including a carbon tax, coal executive Robert Murray said Thursday at a conference hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Prompted by comments from TPPF's Brooke Rollins calling their carbon tax advocacy "so disingenuous," Murray declared BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil "our enemies," citing politics and shareholders. "They're not doing our grandchildren justice, those three companies. The other oil and gas companies, they realize that once our enemies get rid of coal, they're next," Murray said. "But those three companies are all about politics and shareholders and I don't buy those products." Oil and gas executive Bud Brigham agreed: "It's cronyism that they chose to have a seat at the table with the government and collusion with special interests a la Elon Musk, etc. It's very disappointing."
Murray math: The coal magnate dropped some eyebrow-raising stats during his appearance, including that he has met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt a whopping seven times so far this year. Murray also said he has received 71 death threats, "some serious," although he did not specify over what period those were received.

Coal Magnate Murray spouts out about the "unfairness" of tax reform -- especially when he admits that "Murray Energy" pays 'zero taxes currently' in the 'CNBC' video below (less than 2 minutes in length):

Murray Energy CEO: Senate bill a huge tax increase on capital intensive businesses from CNBC.

Wow.  Robert Murray admits that his corporation does not pay taxes currently.  The world is moving away from coal.  Unfortunately, part of the fossil fuel industry does not understand that the world is moving toward 'clean energy'.  Over time, the public is starting to understand the value of thinking about 'sustainable development' in all aspects of society.

The movement has started to gain momentum with examples of 'divestment' and will only increase over time.  Especially, as the prospect of 'clean energy' or 'renewable energy' becomes available by technology driving down the cost of transition from fossil fuels.  Time will define the road ahead which is filled with various obstacles.  Today, there seems to be considerable enthusiasm among businesses and investors which point toward a better (more sustainable) world ahead.

Related Blog Posts:

Environmental Entrepreneurs Weigh In On Repealing The Clean Power Plan

Paris Climate Agreement Is A Start Toward The Renewable Energy Future

World Goes Left, While Trump Leads Right - On Climate - Why?

Trump Goes Right On Paris Agreement, Part Of U.S. And World Head Left

President Trump's Understanding of the Paris Agreement

What Is Going To Be Discussed At The G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany?

A Good Start: Republicans Accept Climate Change As Real

There Is No Climate Debate -- Scientific Facts Have Settled The Issue?

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

NIH Director Updates Congress On Research Progress

Science is a critical part of our existence today.  That is hard to argue with -- if you know anyone who is arguing against the notion.  I certainly don't.  Life spans have increased dramatically compared to just a century ago.  Cancer and other terrible diseases are supposedly on the rise.  Of course, I attribute the increase to better technology, longer lifespan, and better healthcare.  The belief is that the diseases are being caught in an earlier stage and in some cases, can be treated.  Regardless, there is no doubt that modern medicine has dramatically changed our quality of life over the past century.

Why do I mention the obvious?

In order for modern medicine to have such a dramatic effect on our lives, a certain investment is required into technology along with the research and development of therapies and therapeutics.  Meaning, research done at the university setting is just as important as research which is accomplished in the private sector (industry).  Funding is the life-line for research and development at the university stage along with alumni contributions plus endowments.  In industry, federal funding is distributed, although, revenue from past inventions along with venture capital and investment is the main driver.

Last week, the Director of the National Institutes of Health testified before Congress at a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.  I have stated this before in previous blog posts (see related blog posts below) that I am always interested in the testimony and opening statements of administrators/professionals who show up before Congress.

Specifically, I mean any testimony that is prepared in advance (written) remarks and inquiries (letters, comments) prepared for government bodies (Congress, White House, etc.).  I find myself asking the following questions while reading about Congressional Testimony or lobbying in the form of letters or statements:

What does that official letter look like (i.e. in content)?  

How does Congress ask for further information from Federal or State Officials in a letter?  

What do letters look like from Congressional members?"

Which is why I have posted letters as I find them in the news on this blog site.  Without further ado, here are remarks which Dr. Francis Collins delivered following opening address shown below:

Chairman Burgess, Ranking Member Green, Distinguished Members of this Subcommittee, thank you for hosting this important hearing. 
More so, thank you for creating the need for this hearing – for the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) which was enacted one year ago.  The Cures Act touches on so many important issues.  From providing support for four cutting edge research priorities, to enhancing privacy protections to inclusion of various communities in research trials, to reducing administrative burden to expanded prize authority, we at NIH appreciate your leadership and dedication in enacting new authorities to speed the pace of research and improve how science is conducted to transform the way we translate discovery into therapies. 
In my testimony, I will highlight how NIH is implementing some of the key provisions of the Cures Act and how it is benefiting the biomedical research community and, most importantly, patients.
Big Data:  The Promise of Data Sharing Balanced With the Need for Privacy
As in most fields, computing power is changing the way research is done.  The promise of big data cannot be overstated for finding patterns of disease and health and targeting therapeutics to sub-populations.  The Congress, in the Cures Act, wisely recognized both the potential and the risks inherent in sharing data sets and NIH has moved quickly to get the appropriate protections in place. 
First, on September 7th, NIH issued a Guide Notice to our research community implementing the significant enhancements this Committee made to the Certificates of Confidentiality, making them both automatic and compulsory.  To implement this change while minimizing the burden to our researchers, we streamlined the issuance of Certificates into the terms and conditions of every research award we make involving human subjects.1  Since October 1st, every NIH award has this added layer of protection for research participants. 
Second, on September 17th, guidance on the FOIA exemption for genomic information was disseminated to all NIH FOIA officers.
Only now that the new Cures Act privacy protections are in place, are we moving forward on the exciting new authority to require data sharing.  This will be a sea change in biomedical research so we must be deliberate about how to measure the usefulness of data sets, where shared data should be stored, how patient protections are insured, how interoperability is achieved, and what tools researchers most need in the shared environment.  On November 6th, NIH made 12 awards in a Data Commons Pilot to answer just these kind of questions.  We selected three prominent NIH datasets researchers can use to test their processes.  The biomedical research community will be watching this pilot program very closely.       
We’ve made tremendous progress in managing diseases through the development of new drugs and devices over the years that were tested in clinical trials.  But trials haven’t always included the full spectrum of humanity, and this limits the applicability of study results.  It also limits our ability to target therapies and address disparities.  Congress helped NIH address this issue through the Cures Act in three focus areas:  inclusion of children and seniors; inclusion of pregnant and lactating women; and continuing our focus on women, and racial and ethnic minorities. 
On June 1-2, 2017, as required by the Cures Act, NIH held a workshop on inclusion across the lifespan.  It might seem easy to include all age ranges but both children and older adults require special considerations.  At the workshop, investigators with expertise in conducting clinical studies with pediatric and older populations, ethics experts, and other stakeholders had a robust discussion about barriers and facilitators to the inclusion of volunteers of all ages in research.  The findings and recommendations will be presented at my Advisory Committee meeting on December 14-15, 2017, and we will determine what policy changes are needed to ensure individuals across the lifespan are appropriately included in clinical research.
The Cures Act also asks NIH to continue making progress on the inclusion of women and ethnic and racial minority populations in research.  This has been a partnership of the Congress and NIH for many years – the Congress authorized both the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health and what is now the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in 1993.  With the help of the Congress and the Cures Act, we continue to improve.  We are now collecting inclusion data on a study-by-study basis and in the coming year NIH will report, for the first time, inclusion data from studies on a disease and condition basis.  At the December meeting, the expert Advisory Committee will have a public discussion of recommendations for further advancing the field and updating our inclusion guidelines.  I look forward to the conversation and I will be happy to update you as decisions are made. 
Finally, the Cures Act created a Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women (PRGLAC) to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding gaps in knowledge and research on safe and effective therapies for pregnant women and lactating women.2  This area of research is vital, but it is absolutely critical that we carefully consider intentional exposures in this potentially vulnerable time of life.  NIH established PRGLAC on March 13, 2017, bringing together federal and non-federal experts, including the Food and Drug Administration, representatives from relevant medical societies, non-profit organizations, and industry, to discuss these important issues.
PRGLAC has already held two meetings – the first on August 21-22, 2017, to determine the scope of current Federal activities on safe and effective therapies for pregnant and lactating women, and the second on November 6-7, 2017, to understand the ethical issues surrounding research to develop therapies for pregnant and lactating women.  The third meeting on February 26-27, 2018, will be on communication strategies for health care providers and the public about the use of therapies for pregnant and lactating women, and the fourth meeting on May 14-15, 2018, will be on recommendations to address the gaps in knowledge, ethical issues, and communication strategies for therapies used by pregnant and lactating women. 
Based on the outcome of the Task Force meetings, a report with recommendations will be developed for the HHS Secretary.  NIH is grateful to the Congress for recognizing the need for careful consideration in this area of research and looks forward to addressing any recommendations made by the Task Force.
Strengthening Biomedical Workforce
NIH and its stakeholder community have for many years been concerned about the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise.  As a consequence of NIH’s loss of more than 20 percent of its purchasing power from 2003 to 2015, researchers were forced to vie for limited resources, leading to a hypercompetitive environment.  With success rates below 20 percent, many highly meritorious applications continue to go unfunded.   This has too often resulted in misaligned incentives and unintended consequences for talented researchers at all career stages who are trying to succeed and stay in science.  The current environment is particularly challenging for many new- and mid-career investigators.
Over the last several years, NIH has taken numerous steps to balance, strengthen, and stabilize the biomedical research workforce, but these measures have only taken us so far.  While the percentage of NIH awards that support early-career investigators has gone from declining to flat, these gains have been offset by a decline in the percentage of NIH awards that support mid-career investigators. 
As a direct result of the Cures Act, in June 2017, NIH launched the Next Generation Researchers Initiative3 aimed at strengthening the biomedical workforce with a focus on early career investigators or investigators who are at an early stage in their career.  NIH intends to take a multi-pronged approach, which we outlined in an article published on November 7, 2017,4 to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and to stabilize the career trajectory of scientists.
NIH will develop evidence-based, data-driven strategies to assure that NIH investments are directed in ways that maximize scientific output.  Institutes and Centers will also place greater emphasis on current NIH funding programs to identify, grow, and retain new- and mid-career investigators across these critical career stages.  The NIH Office of the Director will track progress across ICs and assess if these strategies are working.  I am personally committed to this issue and thank the Committee for their support of early- and mid-career investigators.
System Innovation:  Reducing Administrative Burden and Increasing Efficiency
Policies generated with the best intentions sometimes have serious adverse consequences for research.  The Cures Act included numerous provisions that cut the bureaucratic red tape that slows the progress of science.  It also provided NIH with new authorities to improve efficiencies and speed up the discovery process. 
The Cures Act included provisions to improve is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world that plays a crucial role in ensuring the transparency and accountability to the public of researchers and their sponsors.  In addition, this resource is used by researchers to stay up-to-date on developments in their field, find collaborators, and identify unmet needs, and it is also used by patients and families to search for potential studies to enroll in or learn about new treatments that are being tested.  NIH strives to make this resource as user friendly as possible so it can benefit researchers, patients, and their families, and the Cures Act is helping in several ways. 
First, the Cures Act made technical fixes to the legislation establishing that ensure NIH is able to capture more clinical trials in the system and improve our oversight and transparency.  Second, it required NIH to consult with relevant Federal agencies and other stakeholders to receive recommendations to enhance’s usability, functionality, and search capability.  In February 2017, the National Library of Medicine (NLM), along with 18F, a digital services consultancy within the General Services Administration, began conducting user research on with a range of stakeholders.  As a result of this work, NIH rolled out a first in a series of changes to on June 19, 2017.  On September 25, 2017, NLM released more updates as the next phase in its ongoing effort to enhance the functionality of the database.  In response to the Cures Act, NLM will work continuously to make it easier for users to find and participate in clinical trials.
In an effort to improve efficiency, the Cures Act provided a new EUREKA prize authority and allowed NIH to use Other Transactions Authority (OTA) in two areas that need extra flexibility and collaboration:  the Common Fund and the All of Us Research program, part of the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative.  
The EUREKA prize authority is being implemented in three ways:
1) On November 2nd, the National Institute on Aging issued a request5 for public input on (1) the feasibility of three potential prize competitions focused on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias (ADRD):  Validating predictors of AD progression; PET radiotracer to measure in vivo synaptic integrity; and low cost innovation of improving systems of care for AD/ADRD patients and caregivers; and (2) any other suggestions on AD/ADRD research goals to connect to a prize.  Comments are due on December 31, 2017.  
2) NIH formed the EUREKA Prize Coordination Committee to review future proposals for future EUREKA prize competitions. 
3) NIH funded the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study Innovation Prizes and Federal R&D with specific emphasis on strategies to determine which “EUREKA” prize topics are consistent with congressional intent.  The NAS study will also consider the strengths and weaknesses of various measures of health outcomes and effects on government expenditures.  The NAS intends to hold a workshop in 2018. 
OTA is integral to our exploration of how best to structure data sharing, known as the Data Commons Pilot Phase,6 which was announced on November 6th.  The goal of the NIH Data Commons is to accelerate new biomedical discoveries by providing a cloud-based platform where investigators can store, share, access, and compute on digital objects (data, software, etc.) generated from biomedical research and perform novel scientific research including hypothesis generation, discovery, and validation.  The use of OTA awards allows flexibility for the awardees to work together to design innovation solutions that meet the computational and scientific needs of the Pilot.
The All of Us Research Program aims to enroll one million individuals in a decades-long research project.  That ambitious goal requires flexibility, complex and dynamic interactions, and ways to engage non-traditional NIH awardees to advance the mission.  For example, All of Us has used OTA to make awards to the Healthcare Provider Organizations to help build the research protocols, test enrollment procedures, and collect essential health data and biological specimens.
The Cures Act also recognizes that two of the cornerstones of scientific advancement are rigor in designing and performing scientific research and the ability to reproduce biomedical research findings.  In recent years, the scientific community has become aware of the need to improve rigor and reproducibility.  In 2014, NIH worked with scientific publishers to develop a set of principles and goals that 79 publishers have now endorsed.  As the Cures Act requires, my Advisory Committee has convened a Working Group on Rigor and Reproducibility and they are reviewing the experience of the last few years, leading to the development of recommendations for a formal policy.  I look forward to updating you as this effort takes shape.
NIH Innovation Fund
Last, but certainly not least, the Cures Act provided multi-year funding through the NIH Innovation Fund for four highly innovative scientific research initiatives:  the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and the Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project.   As required by the Cures Act, on March 28th, I solicited recommendations from my Advisory Committee on how to allocate the funds.  We had a robust conversation about each of the initiatives and the Advisory Committee members provided critical advice on how to move forward.  As a result of that discussion, and conversations with my NIH colleagues, we drafted the NIH Innovation Fund Work Plan,7 which was submitted to Congress in September 2017, outlining how the agency will use the NIH Innovations Funds for each of these four initiatives.  I would like to tell you a bit about each of these initiatives and how the NIH Innovation Funds are helping to move each initiative forward.
The Precision Medicine Initiative
Precision medicine is a revolutionary approach for disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology.  While some advances in precision medicine have been made, the practice is not in use for most diseases.  The All of Us Research Program, a key element of PMI, is building a national resource—one of the world's largest, most diverse biomedical data sets in history—to accelerate health research and medical breakthroughs, enabling individualized prevention, treatment, and care.  All of Us will engage one million or more U.S. volunteers from all life stages, health statuses, races/ethnicities, and geographic regions to reflect the country’s diverse places and people to contribute their health data over many years to improve health outcomes, fuel the development of new treatments for disease, and catalyze a new era of evidence-based and more precise preventive care and medical treatment.
Across the nation, NIH has engaged 10 large health provider organizations, six community health centers, and the Veterans Administration to be our partners in this ambitious study.  The program is launching in stages.  The beta phase began in May 2017 during which each of our partners are testing their systems and processes to ensure a good experience for participants.  
In July 2017, the program made its first four community partner awards to motivate diverse communities to join and remain in the program, with a focus on those traditionally underrepresented in biomedical research.  Each of these organizations has deep, trusted relationships within and ties to their communities, and we are so very pleased to have the opportunity to partner with them to enhance our outreach into communities that have traditionally been underrepresented in biomedical research. NIH has also engaged with organizations to create mobile apps to enroll, obtain consent from, collect data from, and communicate with All of Us participants.  One of our partners is working with FitBit on a pilot that will start in mid-2018 to test out ways for participants to easily and efficiently contribute data on physical activity, sleep, heart rates, and other behavioral health information.
We anticipate to roll out nationally in spring 2018.  Following the national launch, we will make continuous improvements and updates to the program based on participant feedback and emerging scientific opportunities and technological advances.  The Cures Act Innovation Funds will be critical to ensuring the success of All of Us and the promise of personalized medicine.
The BRAIN® Initiative
The BRAIN Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain, the most complex structure in the known universe.  Launched in 2013, this large-scale effort will push the boundaries of neuroscience research and equip scientists with insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders.  By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.  Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought.
NIH leveraged the Cures Act’s FY 2017 Innovation Funds, in addition to our annual appropriation, to launch 110 exciting new research projects.8 These projects are focused on developing detailed brain circuit maps and powerful new tools to monitor and modulate brain activity in animal models to benefit patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders.  Understanding the way the brain processes information and how it lays down memories and retrieves them will be instrumental for understanding brain health, and ultimately, preventing brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, drug addiction, and traumatic brain injury.  These awards add to work already underway to give us a high-resolution picture of the circuits and networks in the brain, how they work, and where they can go wrong.
The Cancer Moonshot℠
The Cancer Moonshot,9 funded in the Cures Act, has an ambitious goal:  to dramatically speed advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) solicited direct input from the public and convened a Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) of the nation’s top cancer researchers, oncologists, patient advocates, and private-sector leaders.  In September 2016, the BRP presented its report outlining ten ambitious and achievable recommendations to the NCI’s National Cancer Advisory Board. These recommendations shape the scientific blueprint of the Cancer Moonshot representing areas of research that are poised to accelerate our understanding of cancer and bring benefit to patients. Overall, the recommendations create a vision for future cancer research and treatment in which: 
Researchers can identify possible targets for the development of new cancer treatments and preventive interventions, including immunotherapy and immunoprevention, and learn more about how to avoid or overcome cancer drug resistance in patients;
Diverse groups of patients contribute information about their cancer, obtain a genomic profile, learn what treatments might work best given their profile, and identify clinical trials that may be appropriate for them;
Infrastructures are established so that health care providers and researchers can share, access, and analyze information that improves the understanding of how tumors evolve, better predicts treatment outcomes, and helps control patient symptoms and side effects.
Some of these goals are scientific in nature, and some are systemic.  If we are to speed advances, we cannot simply do more of the same.  We must transform the way we conduct research, the way we share results, and the way we get discoveries into patient care.  In FY 2017, NIH made 142 Cancer Moonshot awards, including efforts to leverage advances in immunotherapy, understand drug resistance, and develop of new technologies to characterize tumors and test therapies.  These national and international collaborations will drive discovery for cancer patients and their families.  I would like to highlight one of those collaborations for you today.
On October 12, 2017, NIH and 11 leading biopharmaceutical companies launched the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT), a five-year public-private research collaboration totaling $215 million as part of the Cancer Moonshot.10  PACT will initially focus on efforts to identify, develop, and validate robust biomarkers — standardized biological markers of disease and treatment response — to advance new immunotherapy treatments that harness the immune system to attack cancer.  We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients.  We need to bring that kind of success — and hope — to more people with more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly.  A systematic approach like PACT will help us to achieve success faster.
With the support of the Congress, the Cancer Moonshot will transform the way cancer research is conducted and ensure that substantial progress is made for patients and their families.
The Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project
Regenerative medicine is an emerging area of science that holds great promise for treating and possibly even curing a variety of injuries and diseases.  Regenerative medicine includes using stem cells and other technologies, such as engineered biomaterials and gene editing — to repair or replace damaged cells, tissues, or organs.  Stem cell-based approaches are under development in labs around the world, and some have already moved into clinical trials. Such progress notwithstanding, much work remains to be done toward the development of safe and effective regenerative medicine interventions to realize the full potential of this field.
As a result of the Cures Act, NIH launched the Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project to support clinical research on adult stem cells while promoting the highest standards for carrying out scientific research and protecting patient safety.  The $2 million Cures provided for this initiative in FY 2017 were amplified through matching funds and NIH Institute contributions to reach a total of just under $5 million.  In September, NIH made eight clinical research awards11 that cover a broad spectrum of science and new technologies, and have the potential to advance understanding and treatment of common diseases – including diabetes, anemia, corneal and other eye diseases, and chronic skin ulcers – as well as rare diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, inherited skin diseases, and sickle cell disease.
Several awards will explore the use of adult stem cells to make specialized cells and tissues that could help reduce the need for whole organ transplants or otherwise restore normal function.  Others aim to develop reliable methods of generating red blood cells and platelets in the lab to improve the safety and supply of blood available for transfusion.
NIH looks forward to the opportunity the Cures Act provides to advance this field of science and is hosting a workshop (link is external) on December 6-7, 2017,12 to explore the state of regenerative medicine science involving adult stem cells, with a focus on approaches for the development of safe and effective products.  This will help inform our funding decisions in future fiscal years.
Thank you for your leadership and dedication that resulted in enacting the Cures Act one year ago.  Over the past year, the Cures Act has provided NIH with critical resources and tools to advance our mission – to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.  We appreciate Congress’s support for NIH through the Cures Act and will continue to implement the law to accelerate scientific discoveries and benefit patients.

What I enjoy most about reading letters like the one above are the updates on the wide range of issues being tackled by the National Institutes of Health.  Science is so broad.  Additionally, each reader will undoubtedly learn something new.  I was quite surprised at the disparity in data in drug trials/medical studies with women and children.  Furthermore, why have minorities not been included in studies over the decades along with both genders?  I was blown away by the lack of inclusion.

By reading the letters admitted as Congressional testimony, the public is further informed on the status of the Federal or State Agency and updated on the future goals looking toward the decades to come (as indicated in the letter above).  Remember, Federal agencies are funded by your money (tax payer money) to operate and produce greater results for the better of the public.  Research and discovery is therefore guided by each of us.

Sometimes I believe that people often forget that their vote counts to push the funding of research forward by electing their respective members in Congress with their respective agendas (beliefs, guidelines, agendas, etc.).  Letters like the one above provide clarity in mission/goals and results which have been obtained with tax payer funding so far.  Greater transparency in stated goals and updates will only improve the knowledge of the public on science and policy issues.

In Conclusion...

We need to continue to strive to make documents available for public consumption to educate us on the happenings in Washington which often seem to be 'hidden' behind closed doors.  As you (the reader) will see in a future post on this site, what seems to be hidden is actually publicly available for viewing.  Each of us need to set aside time for educating ourselves on the current state of affairs within government agencies.  This process is an ongoing process which needs to be continuously dealt with.  As is often said about education, learning is a lifetime process.  Each day is an opportunity to learn something new about the world.  Until next time, have a great day!

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