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Geoscience Policy Monthly Review: May 2013

The Monthly Review is part of a continuing effort to improve communications about the role of geoscience in policy. Current and archived monthly reviews are available online.

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Natural Resources

  • Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Proposed Helium Legislation

    On May 7, 2013, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss the proposed Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (S. 783) which was introduced on April 23, 2013 by Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

    During the hearing, Wyden, Murkowski, and the witnesses emphasized the urgent need to address the impending early closure of the Federal Helium Reserve in October 2013, which would cut off 42 percent of the domestic and 35 percent of the global helium supply.

    S. 783 allows the reserve to continue current operations through September 30, 2014, then begins auctioning off 10 percent of the helium available for sale each year, and eventually provides helium solely to federal users. Tim Spisak of the Bureau of Land Management stated that the Department of the Interior supports S.783.

    If the bill passes the Senate, the Senate and House will need to reconcile differences between S.783 and the recently passed House version of the helium legislation (H.R. 527). The major difference between the bills is in the auction set-up: S.783 proposes a phased implementation process for auctioning an increasing amount of helium per year while H.R. 527 proposes conducting all sales through biannual auctions. Walter Nelson, of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., testified that the “wisdom” of a phased auction “contrasts” with the “uncertainty” for contracts that the House bill would create.

  • New Rule Proposed by the Forest Service Regarding Paleontological Resources

On May 23, 2013 the United States Forest Service (USFS) proposed a rule under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-011) that would clarify regulations for the management and protection of paleontological recourses on Forest Service lands.

The proposed rule includes regulations for the management and curation of paleontological resources, consequences for breaking paleontological law, and clarifies that science would be the primary tool for managing paleontological resources. The proposed rule would not affect the casual collection of common fossils.

The draft legislation is open for public comment from experts and stakeholders until July 22, 2013.

  • House Natural Resources Committee Holds Markup of Proposed Mining Legislation

On May 15, 2013, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a markup of 18 proposed bills, including three on critical and strategic minerals (H.R. 761, H.R. 981, and H.R. 1063), one on soda ash production (H.R. 957), and one on outer continental shelf hydrocarbon reservoir management (H.R. 1613).

Of the critical and strategic minerals legislation, H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, received the most debate. The bill was introduced by Mark Amodei (R-NV) and seeks to streamline the hard rock mine permitting process and boost domestic critical and strategic mineral resources development. Three amendments were proposed during the hearing. Amodei’s amendment making technical changes was approved. Rush Holt (D-NJ) offered two amendments, one to narrow the definition of critical and strategic minerals and another to assess a 12.5 percent royalty on materials mined on federal lands. Both amendments failed. H.R. 761 was reported to the full House by a vote of 24-17.

H.R. 981 or the Resource Assessment of Rare Earths (RARE) Act of 2013 was passed by the committee unanimously without additional action. The bill, introduced by Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), mandates that the U.S. Geological Survey, “in coordination with the heads of national geological surveys where available,” conduct a global assessment of rare earth elements within three years.

H.R. 1063, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013, was also passed by unanimous consent without amendment. Introduced by Doug Lamborn (R-CO), it mandates that the Department of the Interior (DOI) assess the nation’s ability to supply current and future demands for critical and strategic minerals.

H.R. 957 or the American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act, introduced by Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), would reduce the royalty on sodium produced on federal lands from the current rate of six percent to two percent for five years. Two amendments were discussed. The first amendment, offered by Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), would prevent the royalty reduction during any year when there is a federal budget deficit. The second amendment, offered by Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), stated that if the reduced royalty rate failed to increase domestic production or employment then the reduction would cease. Both amendments were rejected, and H.R. 957 was reported to the full House with a vote of 28-13.

H.R. 1613, the Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act, was introduced by Jeff Duncan (R-SC) to approve an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico regarding offshore drilling along the Gulf of Mexico border. A primarily technical amendment proposed by Doug Lamborn (D-CO) was approved. An amendment from Holt regarding increasing penalties and liabilities was rejected. Raul Grijalva’s (D-AZ) amendment to remove the bill’s exemption for companies from the Dodd-Frank requirements to report company payments to the government also failed. The committee passed H.R. 1613 by a vote of 25-16.
 

 

 

 

 

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Monthly Review prepared by: Abby Seadler, Geoscience Policy Associate, Kimberley Corwin, 2013 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Brittany Huhmann, Clinton Koch, and John Kemper 2013 AGI/AIPG Summer Interns.

Sources: AccuWeather, The American Institute of Physics, BuildStrong Coalition, Bureau of Land Management, Coalition for National Science Funding, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior,  Environment and Energy Daily, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Register, GeoOptics, Government Accountability Office, Greenwire, The Hill Blog, House of Representatives, Keck Institute for Space Studies Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study, Lunar and Planetary Institute, MIT Energy Initiative, National Academies Press, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Science Magazine, Thomas, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S. Senate, the White House

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This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Geoscience Policy Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and others as part of a continuing effort to improve communications about the role of geoscience in policy. More information on these topics can be found on the Geoscience Policy Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at govt@agiweb.org or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.

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Compiled May 31, 2013