Loka Alert 10:1 (June 17, 2003)
HELP MAKE HISTORY: URGE SENATE TO VOTE FOR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN NANOTECHNOLOGY POLICY
PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY WHERE APPROPRIATE
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
If you believe we urgently need more citizen participation in federal technology policy, this is the time to let your Senators know!
Thursday morning, June 19th, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee intends to finish writing up S. 189, a bill to coordinate federal nanotechnology research and development across several agencies. The Senate Committee has a rare opportunity to provide strong legislative authority for Citizen Panels – a key innovation for public participation in science and technology policymaking.
The House has already passed its own nanotech bill, H.R. 766, which includes a historic provision that would allow ordinary citizens to take part in policy deliberations early on in the development of a major new technology. It requires public input and outreach to the public in federal policymaking for nanotechnology -- an area expected to have dramatic impact on us all – through "the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions." The House bill also specifies that one method for achieving this public input would be Citizen Panels -- or Consensus Conferences, as they are also called. These panels of ordinary Americans would review the social, environmental, and ethical impacts of nanotechnology and advise the government on them.
Now the Senate Committee is considering whether to endorse or ignore this House move towards democracy. Your voice could have a
significant influence on the outcome -- please call or fax your
Do you live in one of the following states? If so, you have at least one Senator who is actually on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has the best chance to add citizen panels to the bill. So your phone calls or faxes -- before Thursday, if possible -- are even more important:
Citizen panels involve small groups of ordinary citizens assembled to examine important societal issues about research and technology. These citizens are selected in much the same way that we now choose juries in cases of law -- but with greater commitment to represent diverse experiences. The panels study and discuss relevant documents, develop an agenda of major public issues to address, hear expert testimony from those doing the research, listen to arguments about technical applications and consequences presented by various sides, deliberate on their findings, and write reports based on consensus items developed among the panelists.
This gives policy-makers and everyone else a much better sense of where the common ground lies among citizens who do not have a direct political or economic stake in the issue under consideration -- i.e., the majority of the population. Citizen panels are good government, good for business, and good for America's families and communities.
Nanotechnology supporters are promising enormous benefits from developments in this new field, others are raising serious concerns, and this major new technology is expected to have profound social, health, environmental, financial, and ethical consequences for everyone. So this is an excellent time to contact your representatives in Congress. Make sure to refer to Senate bill S. 189 or House bill H.R. 766. Urge them to support a mandate for citizen panels in the legislation, which may spur a Senate floor discussion on public participation in technology policy. Stress the need for strong provisions in the bill to ensure careful consideration and ongoing attention to the potential social, environmental, and ethical consequences of nanotechnology.
A full Senate vote could follow soon after the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation marks up the 21st Century
Nanotechnology Research and Development Act -- visit
The House has already passed the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, authorizing $2.36 billion over three years (to see the bill as passed by the House and referred to the Senate, visit http://thomas.loc.gov and search for "H.R. 766.RFS").
Spending could be much lower than this ceiling after the appropriations process; however, even this amount does not include
nanotech spending by the Defense Department. In an April 9 hearing
Initially, there were only vague references to public outreach in the House bill. But Langdon Winner's testimony sparked interest in the idea of a mechanism like citizen panels. And the Loka Institute and the International Center for Technology Assessment (http://www.icta.org) generated phone calls and visits to educate key Congressional staffers on this rare opportunity to initiate citizen panels early in the development of a major new technology.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) embraced the idea of citizen panels and proposed an amendment that would require the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office to organize at least one citizen panel every 18 months, and that specifically provided for funding of these panels. Ultimately, House Republicans preferred to mention citizen panels and consensus conferences as possible forms of regular and ongoing public discussions for public input without mandating them, and this compromise found its way into the final House bill.
Besides calling your own Senators, key members of the Senate Commerce Committee – especially Sen. McCain, who chairs the committee; Sen. Wyden, who introduced S. 189; and Sen. Hollings, the senior Democrat -- could benefit from hearing your feelings on this extraordinary opportunity to democratize U.S. science and technology policymaking by involving ordinary citizens in the process. If the Senate includes even stronger language regarding public participation than is now in the House version, ordinary citizens are likely to end up with a voice in nanotech policy.
Thank you for your help in these efforts.
For more information:
Contacting your Senators and Representative http://www.congress.org
House Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003
Senate 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act
Predictions of potential benefits
Predictions of potential negative consequences
April 9 hearing on the Societal Impacts of Nanotechnology
Langdon Winner's April 9 testimony
International Center for Technology Assessment
"Town Meetings on Technology", an article by Richard E. Sclove on citizen panels, or consensus conferences, as they are also called.
National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office
House Committee on Science
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
May 1 hearing on nanotechnology
Membership and phone numbers of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
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