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US news roundup: 19-25 February


This week: a Mars landing, a poor review for the EPA, and federal emissions rules

In depth: Research support at US universities could be the area of research that is at greatest financial risk due to Covid-19, according to an analysis of how the pandemic will impact academic research budgets.

Full story: Pandemic ‘could undercut financing of research support’

Also this week from Research Professional News

US advised to ‘aggressively’ back fusion energy—Two reports call for use of industry partnerships to deploy fusion energy technologies 


Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Applause for safe landing of life-seeking Mars mission

Nasa’s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars on 18 February, where it will spend two years looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The agency’s acting head, Steve Jurczyk, said the landing was among the “pivotal moments for Nasa, the United States, and space exploration globally”. The House science committee’s Democrat chair, Eddie Bernice Johnson, said the landing was “no small feat”, while the committee’s lead Republican, Frank Lucas, said it was the “end of a journey but the beginning of an exciting mission”.

EPA’s toxicity literature reviews need work, academies say

The Environmental Protection Agency’s literature review methods “could be broadly improved”, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The EPA invited an academy committee to look at the methods it uses to scan the literature when making toxicity risk assessments. Its methods are “lacking objectivity at each step” and the “transparency of the entire risk-evaluation process is compromised across all of its elements”, the committee found. The EPA directed Research Professional News to a statement in which it committed to strengthening its review methods. “Strengthening the process used to select this information will improve chemical safety and ensure that our risk evaluations protect human health and the environment,” said Michal Freedhoff, a senior EPA manager for chemical safety.

International student numbers plummet

The number of international graduates taking up positions at US universities in 2020 fell by 39 per cent compared with 2019. Data collected by the Council of Graduate Schools found that the decline was largely due to international students deferring their position until 2021. Among graduates from China and India, the two countries with the largest share of international applications, numbers fell by 37 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively. CGS president Suzanne Ortega said the fall in numbers was “alarming” and “undermines the international diversity and vitality of US graduate programmes”.

Biden ditches Trump’s unfinished federal emissions rules

Attempts by the Trump administration to recast rules on federal greenhouse gas emissions have ended without effect, after being dropped by president Joe Biden. Trump told the Council on Environmental Quality, an executive coordination body, to review rules on emissions from federal activities to boost “energy-independence and economic growth”. Biden asked the CEQ to abandon Trump’s changes and instead consider whether the pre-Trump guidance on federal emissions should be updated.