You can find Dan Canon's answers to our Questions for Candidates’ Forum on Science and Policy below, in italicized text.
1) If you are elected, on what House Committees would you seek to serve, and why?
The real answer is the Judiciary Committee because of my background and the work that I’ve done in the federal court system. Also the Ethics Committee because that’s currently chaired by Susan Brooks, so you know they need some help there.
But I would also aim to serve on two committees that are germane to the topic at hand: House Science, Space, and Technology OR Committee on Natural Resources, and House Appropriations. Either of the first two committees would provide me with the opportunity to oversee the direction and vision of federal agencies engaged in scientific work. These are the committees that have a direct impact on our policies that affect how we approach climate change and new energy alternatives.
The latter would allow me to put the money in the right places to ensure that we’re investing in the long term scientific future of this country. Science policy must have direction and vision, and there must be money to back that up. A classic example of this is NASA in the 1960s vs. NASA today - in the 60s there was a clear purpose to the agency: develop human space travel and land on the moon. Today NASA’s vision is vague, and because of it, their projects are somewhat scattered.
2) Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Too often, however, members of Congress appear to impede healthy policy debates by insisting on competing facts dictated by each party, sometimes in opposition to relevant scientific evidence. What role would you see yourself playing to re-establish a mechanism or a protocol for basing policy debates on scientific evidence rather than ideology? Would you support linking climate change-related congressional policy to existing evidence identified by NASAor the IPCC?
Generally speaking, I’m not sure that it’s helpful to frame this discussion as a dichotomy between science and ideology. In my view, it's not that science should replace ideology, but rather science should be a factor in the framework of one's ideology. We have to live by a philosophy that helps us define the goals and future that we want. Decisions are part of that. Having a rational process for evaluating the variables and impact of those decisions is an important part of policy debate.
That said, there are two ways to answer the first part of this question. First, in terms of messaging, policy is shaped by the political climate in which it is written, and in the short run, this is not a good political climate for facts (as the question suggests). But for now, there are ways to frame policy debates to be more apolitical. For example, during the Obama Presidency climate change was identified as a grave risk to national security (for a lot of reasons, but it already has and will end up causing significant instability due to food scarcity, inhospitable territory, and so on). “National security risks” are generally much less partisan than “climate change.” And so one way that any congressperson can help to base policy debates on scientific evidence is to shape the argument in non-partisan terms that are pretty much universally agreed upon---like national security. Citizens Climate Lobby is doing a lot of good work on this front, and we should follow their lead, though I do not see this sort of “backing into” policy solutions as a particularly good long-term strategy.
Second (and this is a more long-term approach), we need to lessen the the influence of corporate lobbyists, and including respected members of the scientific community in the discussion would be a good start. Scientists and civil servants, who are respected/accountable to their peers and neighbors, need to have a visible seat at the table when writing policy. It is important that elected officials clearly demonstrate that those opinions are being relied upon, and where they come from, rather than maintaining the facade that all of these answers are just being generated by one elected official. Having respected, reliable members of the scientific community with a visible and close-to-direct role in policymaking is an important step to restoring the public’s faith in real evidence-based policies overall, and in ensuring the scientific and academic communities that elected representatives will act responsibly.
As to the second question: the answer here should, of course, be a resounding yes. Federal agencies like NASA, and international organizations like the IPCC exist to inform both lawmakers and the public. When the experts are repeatedly saying, “this a problem, please listen to us” lawmakers have an obligation to pay attention. A Congress that is almost entirely made up of non-scientists mustheed the advice of agencies and expert organizations when it comes to climate change---or any other policy, and we should actively try to foster a culture that encourages same.
3) What do you view as the appropriate role of the federal government, and of the House of Representatives specifically, in addressing climate change? How should Congress support national participation in the Paris Accord? Given the current political situation, how do you judge scientific research to be most effectively incorporated into the policy debates on climate change?
The federal government has two obligations when it comes to climate change: to set the general vision of the country going forward in this new era of changing climate, and to help influence foreign powers to do the same.
On the first point, the House has an obligation to be forward thinking when it comes to climate change because of their budget, and because of its oversight role with respect to federal agencies. In short: we’ve got to make sure the EPA and other executive branch agencies are actually doing the work they are supposed to be doing, and doing it in a meaningful way. In
addition, climate change will be the economy of the future; that is, if we are focused on growing the economy and providing jobs, we are going to need to act now to keep up with tomorrow’s technology. Other countries will move on with or without the U.S., and rather than protecting old, dying industries, the government is going to have the responsibility of ensuring that the jobs and businesses of tomorrow can thrive in our country. This touches on the previous question too; everyone cares about jobs and the economy writ large, regardless of party or ideology.
As to the second obligation, specific policies for the U.S. might be things like setting emissions standards, carbon capture programs, etc., to be instituted by a certain date, as an example and a message to other world leaders. Policies on the global stage are things like the Paris Accord - international agreements that, while perhaps making little progress in the short run, help push nations to confront the issue. Such agreements give us the platform for working with other nations on the development of global policies to advance more energy efficient technologies and improvement of air quality.
4) The Trump Administration is systematically reducing the role of scientific input to Executive Branch actions. One recent example, among many, is Scott Pruitt’s directive that any scientist who receives EPA funding is automatically too conflicted to serve on EPA Advisory Boards. What oversight role do you think the House of Representatives should play in ensuring that policy recommendations from the Executive Branch have sound scientific foundations?
The executive branch’s actions are not isolated to the executive branch. Federal agencies are overseen by congress, and laws are written by Congress. But Congress has repeatedly failed to use its power to rein in the President when it comes to scientific policy. Policy recommendations from the executive branch without sound science should provoke a vocal and sustained response from Congress. We don’t see that from this Congress, and certainly not from our current representative.
In addition, we need to have a real discussion over how much unchecked power the executive branch should get to appoint anyone, no matter how unqualified, to head up essential agencies. We can play a significant role as public figures in ensuring that people are better informed about these appointments, and that they respond accordingly by putting the appropriate pressure on the elected officials responsible for those appointments. If we had the same outcry over executive branch and judicial nominees that we did for the repeal of the ACA, we might see the quality of those nominees improve (albeit slightly). Scott Pruitt is a confirmed appointee, and that Congress must wield its considerable authority to ensure that agencies are provided with only the best appointees. Though this particular issue is the purview of the Senate, the point still stands that any effort on behalf of the executive branch to reduce the role of scientific input is done with a complicit Congress.
5) What are your thoughts on how best to balance the need for government regulations that provide long-term protection for human health, the environment or national security, against the shorter-term costs to industry? How would you convince skeptical constituents that you’re favoring the right balance?
There is a need for balance when it comes to government regulations, of course. But the fact is that majority of government regulations are necessary, popular, and not much of an impediment to business. Government regulations like the equal opportunity act and the clean air & water acts have been invaluable to American society, and businesses have adapted to do just fine in their wake. And any industry that has only a short-term, unsustainable growth model is simply not going to succeed in the 21st century and shouldn't be coddled, especially when health and welfare is at stake.
Skeptical constituents need to be convinced by stressing that sensible regulation will benefit them personally and their communities, rather than multi-billion dollar corporations. We can further these goals with a robust constituency services program here on the ground in IN-09 that emphasizes outreach, education, and transparency about what we are doing and why.
To that point, we should adopt a messaging strategy that: 1) accepts the fact that industries are going to die because of automation and/or other factors; 2) urges compassionate action for workers who have been displaced, in the form of forward-thinking policy solutions like universal basic income, a guaranteed jobs program, and other sustainable alternatives; 3) resists the unnecessary politicizing of job losses.
6) Steven Chu, when he was Secretary of Energy, stated that the U.S. National Labs had replaced institutions such as Bell Labs, which very few corporations could now afford to fund, as the critical incubators of long-term R&D on innovative technologies. What do you see as the proper roles of the federal government and the private sector in advancing scientific research and development, and maintaining a competitive U.S. edge over countries such as China? Do you consider current levels of federal R&D investment in FY2018 funding bills under consideration, or in the President’s proposed FY2019 budget, to be about right, too small, or too large?
The role of the federal government must be to ensure that basic research---the cornerstone of American scientific preeminence---remains fully funded, even when it provides no clear, short-term financial incentive. The U.S. government can also continue to effectively be a partner to private start-up institutions. Funding though organizations such as SBIR and STTR provides technological advances and should be increased/protected. Unfortunately our government has forgotten this; in 2007 the Senate commissioned a report by the National Academies which recommended doubling the federal budget for long-term basic research by 2014. That, of course, did not happen.
If America wants to maintain a competitive edge in the coming years we must be prepared to invest heavily in basic research - far beyond the proposed budgets for 2018-19. While China is increasing their investment in R&D and basic research dramatically, US spending has stagnated since 2005. Science will be done where there is money to do it, and our government’s goal should be to make the US the most favorable place for scientists to go. If history has shown us anything about science, it’s that it will get done in whatever country provides the opportunity. For example, the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993 allowed Europe to sweep up the field of particle physics. If we want to avoid similar consequences in other fields we better be prepared to spend whatever it costs.
On top of that, we want to send a message to the world that scientists are welcome, and that science will always have a home in the United States. To that point, the elephant in the room is that the racist and xenophobic rhetoric of the current administration, no less than a regressive anti-science sentiment overall, is driving foreign students away. These losses will have dire consequences for the future of STEM careers in the United States.
7) How would you plan to keep abreast of the scientific and technical issues underlying policy debates you face in Congress? Do you have specific legislative priorities concerning issues with a strong dependence on science or technology, or with a significant environmental impact in southern Indiana? Do you have science advisors on your team presently, or have you thought about whom you might tap for that role if you win the nomination?
The Ninth District, with all of its professors, scientists and graduate students, is a fantastic resource for scientific consultation and advice and I intend to leverage it both during this campaign and when elected. I should acknowledge the following volunteers who helped me answer these questions:
Emma Clor, scientist from Franklin
Adam Reuter, scientist from Seymour
Jack Jenkins, PhD student in Physics at IU Bloomington
Josh Barnathan, PhD student in Physics/Biophysics at IU Bloomington
Jackie Trotier, intern and grad student at IUB who is devoted exclusively to public health issues and messaging
I intend to establish a scientific committee to assist me on matters of policy once in office, the members of which could consult in person or via video at regular intervals. This would have a dual benefit of providing me with scientific advice and giving members of the community hands-on experience with science policy.
As to the priorities for this District specifically, first and foremost, as discussed above, we need to make sure the EPA is doing its job. Examples of how this affects IN-09 abound, but one salient issue is that of coal ash ponds leaching harmful chemicals into groundwater in Morgan
and Floyd counties. A rollback of an Obama-era EPA rule has made it much easier for the companies responsible for such hazards to do nothing.