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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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