COMMENTS: Federal Alphabet Soup

CBS kicked off its series The War on Cancer with anchor Katie Couric examining the status of basic medical research at the National Institutes of Health. CNBC's Steve Liesman showed us part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for NBC. Wyatt Andrews covered opposition to Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations in the second part of his investigation of fire retardant chemicals for CBS.

NIH cancer research funding has shrunk since 2004, CBS' Couric told us. American biotech used "to lead the pack in terms of novel cancer treatments and medicines" but budget cuts have created "a brain drain" sending young American scientists offshore. Duncan Odom, for example, has left his MIT lab in Cambridge Mass for a government-funded lab in Cambridge England.

President George Bush has "reluctantly signed a bill" to halt purchases of oil to fill the SPR until the cost of crude declines, CNBC's Liesman reported from outside the heavily guarded Bryan Mound in Freeport Texas, one of the reserve's three storage caverns. The SPR was created in the '70s "in response to the Arab oil embargo" to provide emergency supplies. If all oil imports were cut off, the SPR's 700m barrels of crude could power the United States for two months.

Monday, CBS' Andrews was in Maine, where the state legislature has prohibited the use of toxic MBDEs as a fire retardant. Now Andrews tell us that Dell Computer and IKEA furnishings have also phased out brominated chemicals; California is among seven other states that may soon have a ban; and the CPSC has proposed regulations for MBDE-free furniture. Fighting the ban are "neutral sounding front groups" like Californians for Fire Safety, which is running bromine-funded TV ads. The National Association of State Fire Marshals, which has also accepted bromine funds, has hired Peter Sparber to lobby the CPSC against the ban. Sparber also happens to be the lobbyist for the bromine industry. The fire marshals' official line is that it is "not pro-chemical just pro-safety."


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