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Monthly Review: January 2004


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

Finally - An End to the FY04 Budget Cycle!
Only One Brief Plea for the Energy Bill
New Year, New Budget
New Roadmap for NASA
Geoscience Rovers Explore Mars
Congressman Ralph Hall Switches Parties and Rep. W. J. "Billy" Tauzin Resigns Chairmanship
Missouri/Minnesota/Georgia Evolution Controversies
Geology Central to Yucca Mountain Argument
National Academies report about Large Research Facility Projects released
DOI Proposes Incentives for Domestic Natural Gas Production
UK Launches a Cap-and-Trade Program
New USGS Website and Prelude to 125th Anniversary
New Mexico Earth Science Achievement Awards
Geoscientists to Storm Capitol Hill
A New Face in the Government Affairs Program
We'll Miss You, Dave
Key List of Federal Register Notices
New Material on Website

 

Finally - An End to the FY04 Budget Cycle!

Congress returned to session on January 20th and the Senate picked up right where they left off before the holidays - the budget. After spending much of the week debating non-spending related provisions in the bill, the Senate finally passed the $328.1 billion omnibus appropriations bill on January 22nd, completing the drawn-out Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 budget just days before the start of the next fiscal year's budget process. By a vote of 65-28 the Senate approved the bill (H.Rept. 108-401) that finalizes the annual spending plans for the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA, among other agencies.

Complete analysis of each bill is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004.html#recent.

Only One Brief Plea for the Energy Bill

The Constitution requires that the President of the United States inform Congress from time-to-time about the state of the Union. It makes no provisions for how or when that should occur. It's largely an event that has evolved over time into a speech that the President makes before a joint-session of Congress and, via television broadcast to millions of homes, the American people. On January 20th, President Bush laid out his legislative agenda for the coming year, previewed issues that may be used as campaign themes, and articulated his vision for America.

After months of unsuccessful efforts to push his energy initiatives through Congress, President Bush made only one very brief plea to Congress to "pass legislation to modernize the electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy." The next day Energy Undersecretary Robert Card sought to clarify by telling a lunchtime audience hosted by the nonpartisan group Resources for the Future that the administration remains committed to its energy agenda.

Despite these reassurances, there is speculation about the fate of the energy bill. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is working to get the votes needed to pass the energy bill in the Senate. According to Greenwire, Domenici said "The one option I absolutely will not consider is breaking this bill up. It's the start of the year, and we're only two votes down."

On January 22nd, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA.), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) introduced a bill that would amend the Federal Power Act to include electricity reliability standards, S. 2014. This may be the first of many attempts to salvage portions of the energy bill by taking a singular provision and introducing it as a stand-alone bill. Lawmakers are worried about cost of the bill and projections for the deficit over the next 10 years have worsened. One way to drive the cost of the bill would be to carve out provisions and pass smaller, stand-alone bills rather than a singular, hulking piece of legislation.

Not wanting to see his hard work amount to nothing, as of late last week, Domenici was still insisting to Greenwire that it is too early to break up the bill and would fight all efforts to do so.

New Year, New Budget

The President's budget was released on February 2nd, in a small ceremony to Congress. As outlined in the President's State of the Union Address (see above story), the budget request places the highest priority on homeland security, fighting the war on terror, and the economy. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are slated to receive the largest increases, while the domestic discretionary spending is kept at a growth of 1 percent. President Bush claims that keeping discretionary spending at this growth level will help the economy -- it will also address recent concern about the growing deficit. Over the next several days, the Government Affairs Program will be sending out Special Updates on the budget and how it will impact the geosciences.

A New Roadmap for NASA

In early January, President Bush outlined a new space policy in a major address at NASA Headquarters. He set out a roadmap that will have the International Space Station complete by 2010. There are also plans for a new spacecraft - a crew exploration vehicle - that is slated to conduct a series of manned mission to the moon, with the first missions to occur no later than 2014. Extended human missions to the moon are planned as early as 2015. Another goal is to use the moon as a launching point for missions to other planets beyond by 2020. Research will center on the effects of space travel on human biology. In order carry out these goals, the NASA budget must increase by about 5.5% in 2005 and then increase about 5% per year for the next couple of years and then go to a 3% increase per year afterwards until 2009, the end of the budget horizon.

Geoscience Rovers Explore Mars

After a seven month journey, the Spirit Rover successfully landed on Mars in the Gusev crater on January 3rd. Although the first pictures on Mars were taken on January 4th, it took until January 15th for the rover to leave the lander platform and began transmitting information from outside the lander module. As part of the Mars Exploration Program, NASA wants to understand how the relative roles of wind, water, volcanism, tectonics, impacts and other processes have acted to form and modify the Martian surface. To complement the Spirit's mission, on January 25th, the Opportunity Rover landed in the Meridiani Planum, a flat area on the opposite side of Mars from where Spirit landed.

NASA plans to do a detailed mineralogical assessment of rock and soil samples to determine: 1) If there was ever any water present on Mars by looking for clays, carbonates, iron oxides, salts and other minerals that only form in the presence of water; 2) What the climate conditions were like when the rocks and soils were formed (and altered) and whether the climate may have been warmer and wetter at one time; and 3) Evaluate the general geologic characteristics of the rocks and land features to determine the geologic history of Mars. The rovers will scrape away exposed surfaces of rocks to get fresh surfaces to study. Using specialized onboard instruments, the rovers will also analyze the atmosphere on Mars.

More information on the science goals of the rover program can be found online at: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/science/goals.html. Additional rover news can be accessed online at http://www.geotimes.org/feb04/scene.html.

Congressman Ralph Hall Switches Parties and Rep. W. J. "Billy" Tauzin Resigns Chairmanship

Sending the Capitol Hill rumor mill into overdrive, Representative Ralph Hall, representing the Fourth District of Texas, unexpectedly switched parties from Democrat to Republican when he filed for re-election in early January. Republicans have agreed to allow Hall to retain his seniority after he resigned his democratic committee assignments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nominated Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) to fill Hall's position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) will replace Hall as the ranking member of the House Science Committee. Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX) will serve as ranking member of the Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, moving over from the panel's energy subcommittee.

Rep. Hall has been reassigned by Republicans to the Energy and Commerce Committee. Its chair, Rep. W. J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-LA) announced Tuesday, February 3rd that he is resigning his chairmanship, effective February 16th. It is widely rumored that he will not seek reelection in November. Earlier this month he turned down an offer to become Hollywood's top lobbyist, heading the Motion Picture Association's government affairs enterprise. Still on the table, though, is an offer to lobby for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade group that represents drug giants such as Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. They advocated on behalf of the Medicare bill passed by Tauzin's committee late last year. Tauzin's announcement means that Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) will likely head the full committee, leaving Hall to head Barton's subcommittee.

Missouri/Minnesota/Georgia Evolution Controversies

Missouri:
In Missouri, a new bill concerning science standards in public schools, House Bill 911, was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on December 19, 2003. It is sponsored by state Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper, M.D. and six other Republicans. The bill, now under consideration by the House Education Committee, states that both "biological evolution" and "biological intelligent design" would be given equal consideration in the Missouri public elementary and secondary schools.

In the bill, "biological evolution" is defined as "a theory of the origin of life and it's ascent by naturalistic means." The term "biological intelligent design" is defined as "a hypothesis that the complex form and function…of all species on earth are the result of intelligence." The bill would require public schools to spend an equal amount of time discussing both concepts and that course textbooks contain approximately equal number of pages teaching each viewpoint. The textbooks would start to be implemented in 2006 and be mandatory by 2016. According to the bill, a committee would be appointed containing at least five people who support "biological intelligent design" and would write supplemental curricula for the interim until the textbooks are implemented.

To read the bill in its entirety, go to http://www.house.state.mo.us/bills041/bills/hb911.htm.

Minnesota:
The Minnesota Senate Education Committee held an open hearing on January 23rd about new state science and social studies standards. The new standards include the teaching of scientific evolution, but there was some criticism about the lack of alternatives to scientific evolution in the curriculum. A chapter in the high school curriculum discusses how new evidence can challenge previously held theories, such as the big-bang or plate tectonics. However, some members of the community do not believe that this teaches the controversy over evolution specifically enough and they would prefer that the disagreement be explicitly stated in the evolution curriculum.

In addition, a minority report has been co-written by a Minnetonka school board member to change the standards to reflect the controversy over evolution. The writers of the report say they do not want to teach religion in the classroom, just "the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution". The Minnesota State Legislature convened on February 2nd and lawmakers are expected to act on the new standards this spring.

Georgia:
The Georgia Department of Education released its new curriculum on January 12th to a thunder of controversy. The new middle and high school science standards proposed by Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox strike references to the word evolution and replace them with the term "biological changes over time." The curriculum revisions began over a year ago in an attempt to strengthen the performance of students by requiring greater depth of essential topics. Although it's not explicitly mentioned in the curriculum, Cox said that the new standards could include the teaching of "intelligent design" as another legitimate theory.

In the past few days, over 2400 people have signed an online petition to encourage the Georgia Department of Education to adapt the Project 2061 benchmarks for science education that were developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. To view (or sign) the petition, go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/gasci04. To learn more about the proposed standards: http://www.glc.k12.ga.us/spotlight/gps2.htm.

The Georgia Department of Education will collect feedback for three months. If you wish to comment on the proposed standards, see http://edtech.doe.k12.ga.us/QCC/survey.htm.

Geology Central to Yucca Mountain Argument

In a federal court hearing on January 14th, lawyers from the State of Nevada told the court that Yucca Mountain is not suitable to handle the radionuclides that could seep into groundwater sources thousands of years from now. Despite the recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the site for 300,00 years, the EPA only evaluated the site for 10,000 years in the future. The casks that will hold the waste cannot last for more than 10,000 years, so the geology of the mountain alone must be able to store the waste. According to Greenwire, tests have shown that the rocks at Yucca Mountain cannot isolate radioactive waste for more than 10,000 years. The lawyers for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission countered by saying the waste can be safely stored within a 10,000 year period. The ruling on the case is expected this summer, but the state of Nevada has promised a Supreme Court fight regardless of the outcome.

For more information on Yucca Mountain see: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/yucca.html.

National Academies Large Research Facility Projects Report Released

The National Academies released a report on January 14th stating that the National Science Foundation (NSF) needs an improved process to rank proposals for large research facilities and manage the projects over time. The report proposes a clear process, which it refers to as a roadmap, to lay out the process for obtaining government funding. The roadmap is not a budget document, but it facilitates the budgeting process by giving a plan for all projects over the next 10-20 years and giving each project a priority order. The roadmap will be re-evaluated every five years.

In addition, the National Academies established criteria for the selection of projects for potential funding based on three levels. First, the project is ranked within the scientific field that the project falls in using scientific and technical criteria. Second, NSF ranks the proposals among set of related fields using an agency strategic criteria. Lastly, the National Science Board, working with NSF, ranks the proposals across all fields of science using national criteria. NSF has created a new position, the Deputy for Large Facility Projects, which will oversee each project's implementation and monitor the transition from construction to operations. This position will be reviewed in two years.

To read the report in its entirety, log on to http://www.nap.edu/books/0309090849/html/.

DOI Proposes Incentives for Domestic Natural Gas Production

New incentives to boost natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico were published by the Minerals Management Service on January 26th in the Federal Register. These incentives are designed to encourage the natural gas industry to explore deep gas deposits and offer a variety of royalty suspensions on wells drilled deeper than 15,000 feet. The incentives will only be offered to areas of existing production on wells that have started since March 26, 2003. In addition, production of natural gas must begin within the next five years.

Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) spokesman Jeff Eshelman told Greenwire that "Deep natural gas wells are often very costly to develop, and the current royalty rate has often made the economics of developing such wells unattractive to companies and their investors." Industry groups say that the relatively small field of natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico will only go so far to supply the nation's estimated consumption of 22 trillion cubic feet annually and urge Congress to pass the stalled energy bill. Passing the bill would allow similar incentives in coastal Alaska and in the Mountain West states.

UK Launches a Cap-and-Trade Program

The United Kingdom recently announced its National Allocation Plan as part of the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, which would employ a cap and trade program to reduce CO2 emissions. The United Kingdom will set a target of reducing emissions 16.3% below 1990 levels by 2008, although it only agreed to a12.5% cut under the Kyoto Protocol. Power plant operators and operators of facilities that produce or use more than 20 megawatts of power will have to apply for a greenhouse gas trading permit. Each facility will be told of its allowable CO2 emissions, and if it cannot find ways to reduce those emissions, it must pay a penalty or purchase carbon credits from other users when the Emissions Trading Scheme launches next year. Opponents of the plan say that it could lead to skyrocketing energy costs as well as drive the industry offshore and raise global CO2 emissions. In addition, British companies could face competitive disadvantages and more of a regulatory burden than other European nations. Proponents argue that emissions levels are already 8% below the1990 levels so only another 8.3% decrease by 2008 is needed.

New USGS Website and Prelude to 125th Anniversary

The USGS invites scientists and other customers to explore the new look of the USGS Home Page (http://www.usgs.gov). There is a new banner that incorporates the 125th anniversary commemorative online signage. The site also provides a new window into the breadth and depth of USGS science with a page called "Our Science" (accessed from the navigation bar at the top), which provides an overview of the major disciplines and key program links. The familiar discipline home pages, like water.usgs.gov, are still easily accessible, but now the USGS site also offers information on vegetation mapping, coastal and marine geology, earthquakes, and chronic wasting disease. The site takes an interactive approach with USGS science and is able to make connections between the various science programs. Another feature of the USGS Home Page is a new customer service area located in the banner at the top on the right-hand side. The USGS is looking for comments and feedback to continually make improvements to these pages. Feedback can be sent to: gwendt@usgs.gov.

New Mexico Earth Science Achievement Awards

On January 30th, the first New Mexico Earth Science Achievement Awards were presented to Representative Joe Stell of Carlsbad, and to Dr. John W. Shomaker of Albuquerque. These awards, co-sponsored by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR) in Socorro, and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) in Santa Fe, are presented annually to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to advancing or facilitating the role of geoscience in the areas of education, research, public service, and public policy in New Mexico. Selections were made following a statewide nomination process. The awards were initiated to honor those often unrecognized champions of earth science issues vital to the future of New Mexico.

For more information, please see http://infohost.nmt.edu/mainpage/news/2004/16jan01.html.

Geoscientists to Storm Capitol Hill

AGI is asking geoscientists to attend the 9th annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington on March 3 - 4, 2004. This event brings over 200 scientists and engineers to Capitol Hill to visit Members of Congress and their staff early in the congressional budget cycle in an effort to increase federal investment in science.

AGI would like to see a strong contingent of geoscientists at this event. We especially encourage Member Society leaders to consider it. Attendees spend the first day receiving briefings from federal agency officials and congressional staff followed by a day of visits. This year's visits will also have an air of festivity as the U.S. Geological Survey will be celebrating its 125th Anniversary on March 3rd with events on Capitol Hill and throughout the country. More at http://www.setcvd.org/.

A New Face in the Government Affairs Program

At the beginning of January, Gayle Levy, the AGI/AAPG Spring Semester intern, arrived. She comes to us from the University of Georgia where she received her M.S. in geology. Her thesis involved studying the evolutionary biology of brachiopods. Now in Washington, she will spend quality time on Capitol Hill observing the budget process and election-year politics at their finest.

We'll miss you, Dave

January 30th was Dave Applegate's last day with AGI. He has been the Director of the Government Affairs Program for 8 years and has accepted a position with the U.S. Geological Survey as the Senior Science Advisor for Earthquakes and Geologic Hazards. AGI will miss his easy-going style, his sense of humor, his tireless work ethic as well as his ability to see the big picture and how the geosciences fit into it. We wish him all the best in his new position at the USGS.

List of Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

Department of Energy, The Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) of the Office of Science (SC), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), announces its interest in receiving applications for research grants in the Climate Change Prediction Program (CCPP). Formal applications submitted in response to this notice must be received by March 15, 2004. Volume 69, Number 3 (6 January 2004): pp. 635-638

EPA, National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology-- Notice of Public Advisory Committee Teleconference Meeting. February 12, 2004. Conference Room 6148, U.S.
EPA, Ariel Rios Federal Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. Volume 69, Number 3 (6 January 2004): pp. 656-657

Department of Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Proposed rule and opportunity for public comment on amending their current regulations. Comments must be filed in writing by March 8, 2004. Volume 69, Number 4 (7 January 2004): pp. 1035-1048

NSF-NASA Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meeting notice. February 5-6, 2004. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, 300 E St., SW., Washington, DC. Volume 69, Number 6, (9 January 2004): pp. 1609

NOAA announces it's Partnerships in the Provision of Weather, Water, Climate and Related Environmental Information. This new proposed policy is intended to strengthen the existing partnership between government, academia and the private sector and is available at: http://www.noaa.gov/fairweather. Volume 69, Number 7 (12 January 2004): pp. 1696-1697

DOI, Minerals Management Service released a rule that includes new incentives to increase domestic natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. The incentives will suspend some royalties on natural gas production in existing areas that are deeper than 15,000 feet. The rule is effective as of March 1, 2004. Volume 69, Number 16, (26 January 2004): pp. 3492-3514

NASA Advisory Council, Earth Systems Science and Applications Advisory Committee meeting. February 18-19, 2004, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), 4500 Hubbs Hall, La Jolla, California 92093. Volume 69, Number 16, (26 January 2004): pp. 3620-3621

NSF, Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering meeting. February 18-19, 2004, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 1235S, Arlington, VA. Volume 69, Number 16, (26 January 2004): pp. 3621

USGS, National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program Advisory Committee meeting. February 10-11, 2004 Main Interior Building, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC. Volume 69, Number 17 (27 January 2004): pp. 3940

Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service Notice of Information Collection on regulations under "30 CFR 256, Leasing of Sulphur or Oil and Gas in the Outer Continental Shelf". All comments should be submitted in writing by February 26, 2004. Volume 69, Number 17 (27 January 2004): pp. 3941-3943

NASA, Biological and Physical Research Advisory Committee Meeting. February 12-13, 2004, NASA Headquarters, 300 E Street SW, Room 9H40, Washington, DC. Volume 69, Number 17 (27 January 2004): pp. 3954.

NSF, The National Science Board and its subdivisions will meet on February 5, 2004 at Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA. Volume 69, Number 18 (28 January 2004): pp. 4185

NASA, Earth Systems Science Advisory Committee will be meeting on February 17-18, 2004 at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 4500 Hubbs Hall, La Jolla, California. Volume 69, Number 19 (29 January 2004): pp. 4322

EPA, Proposed rule to reduce interstate transport of fine particulate matter and ozone. This rule also discusses model multi-State cap and trade programs for SO2 and NOx. Written comments on this proposal must be received in writing by March 30, 2004. Volume 69, Number 20 (30 January 2004): pp: 4565-4650.

New Material on Web Site

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:

  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (2-3-04)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (2-3-04)
  • Energy Policy Overview (2-3-04)
  • Mercury Policy (2-3-04)
  • Natural Gas Policy (2-3-04)
  • FY2004 Labor/HHS (Education) Appropriations (1-28-04)
  • FY2004 VA/HUD (NSF, NASA, EPA) Appropriations (1-28-04)
  • FY2004 Agriculture Appropriations (1-28-04)
  • FY2004 Commerce (NOAA) Appropriations (1-28-04)

Monthly review prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program and Gayle Levy, 2004 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern

Sources: American Institute of Physics, Atlanta Journal Constitution, CNN, Environment and Energy Daily, Geotimes, Greenwire, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, MSNBC, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Washington Post .

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted February 7, 2004


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