While the nation decides on the fate of Barack Obama and John McCain tomorrow, residents of Michigan will also decide on the fate of thousands of human embryos. They will be voting on Proposition 2, an amendment to the state constitution that would lift a 30-year-old ban on the destruction of human embryos to get stem cells for medical research. Currently, researchers in the state must import embryonic stem cell lines from other states or countries. (Research on embryonic stem cells is legal in Michigan, but not the destruction of embryos.) The nationwide ban on federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research, instituted in 2001, will still hold, although both Obama and McCain have stated they would lift the ban if elected.
Proposition 2 pits the state’s powerful public and private biological research centers against large, conservative Catholic and evangelical populations who oppose destroying embryos, a form of human life [Wall Street Journal]. The proposition is sponsored by the bipartisan group Cure Michigan. Proponents argue embryos in fertility clinics are routinely thrown away, so why not donate them to science [Detroit Free Press]? The U. S. currently has 400,000 frozen embryos in storage, most of which will be discarded. Supporters say embryonic stem cell research could lead to therapies for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes, and that lifting the ban would advance the state’s biomedical industry and create thousands of new jobs.
NASA officials are quietly considering keeping the three remaining space shuttles in service past their planned retirement in 2010. According to an internal email obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin asked his team to study the possibility of keeping the shuttles flying, in what is being seen as a surprising reversal. Griffin has steadfastly opposed extending the shuttle era beyond its 2010 retirement date, arguing it could kill astronauts and cripple the agency’s fledgling Constellation program, a system of new rockets and capsules meant to replace the shuttle. But geopolitics and political pressure are undermining his position [Orlando Sentinel].
Under the current official plan, NASA will not be able to send astronauts into space between the shuttles’ retirement in 2010 and the launch of the new Orion crew capsule in 2015. NASA has planned to purchase seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to send astronauts to the International Space Station during those five years, but Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia has chilled relations between Russia and the United States, and may imperil the Soyuz agreement.
In a largely symbolic but intensely political move, President Bush today lifted the presidential ban on drilling for oil in U.S. coastal waters. The action will have no immediate effect due to a separate congressional ban on offshore drilling that was passed in 1981, but the president urged Congress to revoke that law as well, arguing that the United States needs to increase domestic production of oil to bring down energy prices.
Asserting that “failure to act is unacceptable,” [Bush] said today’s move clears away executive branch restrictions on offshore oil exploration. “This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress,” he said [The Washington Post]. Democrats immediately responded that Bush’s move was simply political theater. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said: “He knows ruining our coastlines won’t bring down gasoline prices nor solve our energy challenges” [Reuters].
Not a single new nuclear power plant has been built in the United States in the past 30 years, but if presidential candidate John McCain gets his way they’ll soon be sprouting up like mushrooms. In a speech on energy policy yesterday, McCain called for the construction of 45 nuclear reactors by the year 2030, and said that his ultimate goal is 100 new nuclear plants.
The Arizona senator also vowed to spend $2 billion on research into clean-burning coal. “This single achievement will open vast amounts of our oldest and most abundant resource,” McCain, 71, said. “It will deliver not only electricity but jobs to some of the areas hardest hit by our economic troubles” [Bloomberg]. McCain is in the midst of a speaking tour in which he’s offering his ideas on energy policy; his proposal to embrace coal and nuclear energy came two days after he called for lifting the ban on oil drilling in U.S. coastal waters.
As Americans grimly fill up their cars with $4 per gallon gas and worry about turning up the air conditioning at home, they may well be wondering: Can’t we dig up some more oil and gas from somewhere? Well, their government representatives are feeling that pain, and are scrambling to offer new policies that would allow more oil and gas drilling.
Some U.S. Representatives have called, once again, for drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and the bill is reportedly gaining support among moderate Republicans. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate John McCain is making headlines by calling for an end to a 27-year-old ban on offshore drilling. McCain says he still opposes drilling in the “pristine” natural setting of ANWR, but sees renewed domestic drilling as the only way out of the current energy crisis.