Monthly Review: January 2005
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.
New Congress, New Committee Assignments
The new Congress has convened and has been quite focused on electing
leadership, selecting committee chairpersons, establishing procedural
rules, and considering assorted proposals to reorganize some committee
The chairman has already begun to make some committee staff changes,
naming a former VA/HUD subcommittee staff director as the new director
of the full committee. Rumors of various proposals to restructure
the number and jurisdiction of subcommittees are now circulating through
the Capitol. Proposals to reduce the number of subcommittees from
13 to 10, or alternatively to add a fourteenth subcommittee with jurisdiction
over homeland security and intelligence matters are reportedly on
the table for discussion. Chairman Lewis has also stated his intent
to return the House to the practice of passing individual appropriations
bills, rather than the recent practice of combining multiple pieces
of legislation into huge omnibus spending packages. Not long ago,
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a member of the Science Committee and a
vocal advocate for basic research, noted that the fiscal year 2005
omnibus spending bill contributed to the deep cuts made to the NSF
budget. The size of the omnibus legislation essentially hid the cuts
to NSF until it was too late for members to act to restore the cuts.
Once re-elected in November 2004, President Bush has faced the task
of replacing Cabinet members who have opted not to serve in his Administration
for a second term. In January the Senate confirmed Kellogg Co. Chief
Executive Officer Carlos Gutierrez to be the next Commerce secretary.
Gutierrez had won the unanimous approval of the Senate Commerce Committee
on Jan. 6. At that hearing and on the Senate floor, senators praised
Gutierrez for rising from the ranks of a poor Cuban immigrant to head
a major company, all without ever receiving a college degree. "Our
new Commerce secretary is a true American success story," Commerce
Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) said in a statement. Gutierrez
is expected to spend a great deal of time on issues pertaining to
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA comprises
about 60 percent of the department's budget, but few Commerce secretaries,
including Gutierrez, have had a background in the agency's portfolio.
Following the massive earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004, which claimed over 225,000 lives from Indonesia to Somalia, the Bush administration has committed to expanding the nation's tsunami detection and warning capabilities. A new proposal called for $37 million to enhance USGS and NOAA operations and incorporate them into a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) involving the cooperation of 50 countries.
NOAA currently controls six buoys in the Pacific, three of which are off-line. Under current capabilities, NOAA was unable to issue a definitive tsunami warning until two hours after the quake struck, when casualties were announced in Sri Lanka. The new plan would add 25 Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) buoys to the Pacific Ocean, and an additional 12 buoys to accompany new early warning systems in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The USGS would also enhance seismic monitoring and delivery capabilities within their Global Seismic Network.
On January 26th, NOAA and USGS officials were called to present their joint proposal for a U.S. tsunami warning system at a House Science Committee Hearing. Dr. Groat and Gen. Johnson listed the technical operations they will expand in coordination with expanding the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) pressed the need for a comprehensive approach, while other expert witnesses emphasized the need to support effective local and regional tsunami hazard mitigation plans.
Likewise, on February 2nd, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee heard testimony regarding S.50, the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005. This legislation calls for more funds than requested in the Administration's initial proposal of $37.5 million over the next two years, authorizing $35 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for every year between FY 2006 and 2012.
The bill authorizes NOAA to coordinate regional detection and warning
systems for the basins bordering the US, and to integrate these with
global efforts with the help of seismic information provided by the
USGS. NOAA would also to work with the USGS, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, and NSF to expand upon NOAA's Tsunami Hazard Mitigation
Program, which would conduct "community-based" programs,
including inundation mapping, training, long-term mitigation and public
outreach programs, in the country's most at-risk states.
The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) issued a resolution mid-January in response to heightened public awareness of natural hazards following the December 26th Earthquake and Tsunami. The resolution emphasized increased support for geoscience education and effective distribution of sound geologic information as it called for the establishment or improvement of regionally-based disaster management systems for "all natural hazards."
The resolution was meant to directly address the high cost of low public awareness of geologic principles, citing the tendency of the international community to "concentrate on reaction to natural hazards, rather than on preparation and their mitigation."
They recommended that "comprehensive education in the Geological Sciences, including knowledge of local geological hazards and their risk, become an integral part of education systems at all levels and in all countries"
The resolution can be accessed online by logging onto http://www.iugs.org/iugs/news/iugs_hazards_statement.htm.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and a cosponsor of Bush's plan known as the Clear Skies initiative, S. 131, introduced the bill on January 24th. It has only minor technical changes from last year's version.
Greenwire reported that Inhofe, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Senate EPW Clear Air Subcommittee Chairman, and the administration are working with limited time to pass this legislation into law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to issue a final regulation by mid-March known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule that sets Clear Skies-like limits on SO2 and NOx emissions for power plants. EPA also is facing a legal deadline of March 15 to complete a separate rule for mercury pollution from the electric-utility industry.
To learn more about the Clear Skies bill and how it would amend the Clean Air Act, go to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/cleanair.html. To read the Subcommittee and full Committee hearing summaries log onto http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/cleanair_hearings.html.
Six members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
are urging the White House not to cut funds for Energy Department
oil and gas research programs aimed at boosting domestic production.
The move comes as the Bush administration is preparing to submit its
fiscal year 2006 budget request.
The January 11th letter to OMB seeking increased funding for the
programs was also signed by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Craig Thomas
(R-WY), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ken Salazar
(D-CO). It cites the national security implications of reliance on
imported oil and the effects of recent high oil and natural gas prices.
The administration also sought to slash $3.5 million from the Bureau
of Land Management's oil and gas leasing program and raise new revenues
through leasing and permitting fee increases, but Congress restored
$2 million of that funding and blocked the fee increases, according
to the letter and Bingaman's committee office.
In a report released in early January, the Department of Energy found that improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy could significantly lower the cost of natural gas. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reviewed 19 previous national energy models, specifically tracking how the displacement of gas-fired electricity by more efficient and renewable power drives down gas prices. The studies generally showed that a 1% reduction in natural gas demand leads to a long-term price reduction of 0.8-2%.
Based on these economic models, the analysts developed a "simple, transparent analysis tool" with which they evaluated the impact of several existing state and national renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and energy efficiency programs, including those established in California and New England. The projected national savings in reduced natural gas prices in these scenarios range from roughly $1-23 billion, while savings on the regional level are more modest.
The tool developed in the study as well as the results are directed at policy-makers who are concerned about the domestic and macroeconomic impacts of rising gas demand, a concern that is likely to be central to the energy policy debate this year on Capitol Hill.
The DOE Report can be found online at http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/56756.pdf.
For more information on natural gas policy, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/naturalgas.html.
In January, members of state legislatures returned to their capitols
and began introducing legislation that reflects their policy priorities.
Not surprisingly given the increased public profile of evolution education,
legislators in many states have introduced measures that would require
disclaimers be placed in textbooks, require that intelligent design/creationism
be taught along side evolution, or requiring that science teachers
'teach the controversy.' Before providing an update on some of the
anti-evolution legislation, it is interesting to note that a Montana
State Senator from Helena introduced a resolution that, if passed,
would communicate to local school districts that there is a separation
of church and state clause in the Constitution and that school districts
should teach students only sound science. Not to be outdone, a newly
elected member of the Montana House, State Representative Roger Koopman
(R-Bozeman), announced his intent to introduce legislation (LC 1199)
that would allow schools to teach intelligent design/creationism.
The latest information on challenges to evolution is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html.
In related evolution news, Michael D. Lemonick, Noah Isackson, and Jeffrey Ressner wrote "Stealth attack on evolution" in the January 31, 2005, issue of Time magazine. Asking "Who is behind the movement to give equal time to Darwin's critics, and what do they really want?" the article warns of a new wave of assaults on evolution education, coming "not from Bible-wielding Fundamentalists but from well-funded think tanks promoting a theory they call intelligent design." Noting the dubious constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public school science classroom, the Time reporters explain that its promoters now recommend that "schools should continue teaching evolution but also resent what [the Discovery Institute's John] West calls 'some of the scientific criticism of major parts of the theory.'" NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott was quoted, however, as explaining that "[t]eaching evidence against evolution is a back-door way of teaching creationism," and the article later suggests that "[a] look at where the Discovery Institute gets much of its money and at the religious beliefs of many scientists who support I.D. makes it reasonable to suspect that Scott's assertion is correct: intelligent design is just a smoke screen for those who think evolution is somehow ungodly."
To read "Stealth attack on evolution" in Time, visit: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1019856,00.html
To read Glenn Branch's 2004 article in Seed, which discusses the "teach the controversy" slogan in detail, visit: http://www.seedmagazine.com/?p=article&id=100000043&cp=0
Similarly, a January 23, 2005 editorial appeared in The New York Times entitled "The crafty attacks on evolution". It notes that creationists have "become more wily" since banning the teaching of evolution and teaching creationism have both been ruled unconstitutional. The editorial identifies two strategies recently tried out by creationists: attempts to discredit evolution, as in the disclaimers in biology texbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, and promotion of so-called intelligent design, as in the school board policy passed in Dover, Pennsylvania. Both "still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution." The Cobb County school board wins some praise for its good intentions in trying both to please local anti-evolutionists and to support teaching evolution. Nonetheless, "[t]he sad fact is, the school board, in its zeal to be accommodating, swallowed the language of the anti-evolution crowd." Speaking of the board's decision to appeal, the editorial comments, "Supporters of sound science education can only hope that the courts, and school districts, find a way to repel this latest assault on the most well-grounded theory in modern biology." Considering the situation in Dover, the editorial points out that advocates of "intelligent design" have no body of scientific research and, indeed, no real research plan, so "[i]t should not be taught or even described as a scientific alternative."
A briefer January 24, 2005 editorial in the Washington Post, "God and Darwin," also recognizes a new level of sophistication in anti-evolution activity, referring to "intelligent design" and its "slick Web sites, pseudo-academic conferences and savvy public relations." Beneath the meretricious packaging of "intelligent design" creationism, however, the editorial finds little substance, commenting that its proponents "do no experiments and do not publish in recognized scientific journals." By being "very careful in their choice of language, eschewing mentions of God or the Bible," they have enjoyed a degree of success, but "to teach intelligent design as science in public schools is a clear violation ... of the separation of church and state" as well as of "principles of common sense." The editorial ends by warning that continued anti-evolutionism is endangering American world leadership in science.
To read "The crafty attacks on evolution" in The New York
Times (registration required), visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/opinion/23sun1.html
The following dates are useful in planning appointments with representatives or senators. While in session, Members of Congress are generally in Washington on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. As expected, the schedule of most Members is very busy during these days. Much of the time it is easier to schedule a meeting with Members when they are in their district or state offices. These appointments may be longer in duration, and not subject to interruption by committee hearings, floor votes, or other time conflicts.
Planning information for meeting with a Member of Congress can be
found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/resources/communicate.html.
The 10th annual Congressional Visit Day is scheduled for May 10-11,
2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers,
researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to
raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology.
CVD is an important opportunity to make science issues and science
funding a priority for the 109th congress. More information about
CVD is available at www.aas.org/cvd/.
The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated
to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific
The Government Affairs Program is pleased to announce a new Director
of Government Affairs. Starting on February 1, Linda Rowan will take
over the program and is looking forward to working as an effective
liaison between geologists and the government. Linda comes to AGI
from Science-AAAS, where she was a senior editor at Science magazine.
Linda received her Bachelor of Science degrees in geology and computer
science/mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
She received her Masters and Ph. D. in geology from the California
Institute of Technology, where she focused on magma dynamics beneath
Kilauea volcano illuminated with tomography and the equation of state
of liquid basalt determined from shock wave experiments. She spent
3 years at NASA-Johnson Space Center studying meteorites on a National
Research Council fellowship before coming to Washington DC to work
at Science magazine. Linda looks forward to working with the AGI member
societies on issues critical to the broad community. Please feel free
to contact her at rowan at (insert @) agiweb.org or 703-379-2480 x228
with questions, comments or concerns.
Katie Ackerly, this year's AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern, joined the Government Affairs Program on January 11th. She graduated last spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Geosciences from Williams College, and has recently moved to Washington, D.C. from her home in San Francisco, where she worked as a GIS mapping volunteer at the USGS in Menlo Park. Over the next few months she will be busy tracking legislation on the FY06 budget, Clear Skies, national energy policy, and natural hazard mitigation efforts, among others.
Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community 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/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
NSF-NASA: The National Science Foundation is hosting a NSF-NASA Astronomy
and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meeting, open to the public. The
purpose of the meeting is to provide advice and recommendations to
NSF and NASA on issues within the field of astronomy and astrophysics
that are of mutual interest to both agencies. Representatives from
NSF, NASA and other agencies will give presentations of current programming
and discuss current and potential areas of cooperation between the
agencies. The meeting will take place on February 15-16, 2005, 8 a.m.-5
p.m. at the National Science Foundation, Room 1235, 4201 Wilson Blvd.,
Arlington, VA, 22230. Contact Dr. G. Wayne Van Citters at 703-292-4908.
[Federal Register: January 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 5)]
MMS: The Minerals Management Service intends to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) for proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas Lease Sale in the Western Gulf of Mexico (GOM), scheduled for August 2005. Interested parties are requested to send comments regarding any new information or issues that should be addressed in the EA 1. Comments may be submitted within 30 days of this Notice's publication using MMS's new Public Connect on-line commenting system at http://ocsconnect.mms.gov. or sent to the MMS e-mail address: email@example.com. Contact Mr. Dennis Chew, Minerals Management at (504) 736-2793 for more information. [Federal Register: January 19, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 12)]
BLM: In a letter published in the Federal Register, The Bureau of
Land Management rejected the Governor of New Mexico's appeal regarding
plans to authorize new oil and natural gas leasing and development
in Sierra and Otero Counties, New Mexico. [Federal Register: January
25, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 15)]
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 Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program, Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs and Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Semester Intern.
Sources: American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, Environment and Energy Daily, hearing testimony, Greenwire, House Committee on Resources, House Committee on Science, HouseDemocrats.gov, National Center for Science Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The New York Times, Time Magazine, THOMAS legislative database, Triangle Coalition Electronic Bulletin, U.S. House of Representatives Republican Conference, Washington Post.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted February 8, 2005.