Monthly Review: January 2006


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.


State of the Union Highlights Energy and Science Issues

President Bush focused primarily on international relations in his January 31st State of the Union address, but near the end of his talk, Bush outlined the Advanced Energy Initiative and the American Competitiveness Initiative. The energy initiative sets the goal of replacing "more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." This initiative would provide $2 billion over ten years for research in clean coal technologies and would provide a 22% increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy. According to a White House press release, the President has included $281 million for the development of clean coal technology, $148 million for solar energy technologies, and $44 million for wind energy technologies in his budget request that will be sent to Congress on February 6th for fiscal year 2007. President Bush also announced the American Competitiveness Initiative that aims to "encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science." This initiative is similar to bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate (see related story in this month's review) in response to the National Academies' report released last year on the nation's competitiveness and innovation. The President's initiative would double over ten years the total federal funding for physical science programs in the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The President's budget request will include $5.9 billion for programs related to this initiative.

The text of the President's State of the Union Address and supporting documents related to the Clean Energy Initiative and American Competitiveness Initiative are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/index.html

Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Wrap Up

President Bush brought an end to the fiscal year (FY) 2006 appropriations process when he signed the last two appropriations bills into law on December 30, 2005. Congress inserted a 1 percent across-the-board cut to discretionary spending, which includes nearly all federal science funding, in the last bill they passed for Defense appropriations. Below is a brief summary of the final figures for key geoscience-related programs.

The U.S. Geological Survey gained a small increase compared to FY2005 funding for an overall budget of $966.2 million. This amount includes the 1% across-the-board cut but does not include supplemental funding that the agency got last year related to Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Within the USGS, the Geological Programs received $235.1 million, a 2 % increase primarily for hazards programs compared to FY2005. Also receiving funding increases were the Earthquake Hazards program, an 8% increase to total $50.8, and the Global Seismographic Network, a 21% increase to $3.9 million. The Mineral Resource Assessments program received a 7% cut from last year's funding to total $49.9 million. Funding for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program remained the same as FY2005 at $25.2 million. Rounding out the USGS allocations: Mapping programs received $129.9 million (a 9% increase), Water Resource programs received $212.9 million (a 1% increase), and Biological Resources programs received $175.5 million (a 2% increase).

Funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) rose slightly from FY2005 to a total of $24 billion. Renewable Energy activities received $358.4 million, a 6% decrease from last year's level. The Office of Science will receive $3.6 billion, a negligible decrease from last year's allocation. Within this amount, the Basic Energy Sciences will receive $1.1 billion, an increase of 2.6% from the previous year, that includes $219 million for the Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Energy Biosciences account and $140 million for the Climate Change Research account. Funding for the Yucca Mountain project, which is funded through a defense and a civilian account, totaled $445.5 million that translates into a 22% decrease for the project from last year's allocation. Fossil Energy (FE) activities at DOE will receive a decrease of 7.5% from last year, for a total of $592 million. The majority of this decrease was absorbed by the Natural Gas Technologies and the Petroleum-Oil Technology account, which received $32.7 million (-27%) and $31.7 (-7%), respectively. Also within DOE, the Carbon Sequestration account received $66.3, a 46% increase from last year; the Clean Coal Power Initiative received $68.7 million, a 2% increase from last year; and the Coal Research and Development account received $215.8 million, a 5% increase from last year.

The National Science Foundation is reporting a FY2006 total of $5.58 billion, which is a 2% increase from last year's funding level. Funding for the Research and Related Activities account, which includes the discipline-based directorates, increased 2% to total $4.33 billion. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account is up nearly 16% from FY2005 levels. Earthscope will receive almost $50 million of the MREFC account's $190.9 million.

President Bush will release the FY 2007 budget on February 6, 2006. AGI's Government Affairs Program will release a series of Special Updates in the week following the budget release highlighting the geoscience-related programs in the federal government. Other highlights of geoscience funding in FY2006 can be found at AGI's Government Affairs Program website <http://www.agiweb.org/gap>.

New Innovation Legislation Released

On January 25, 2006, Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) held a press conference to introduce a package of three bills (S.2197, S.2198, and S.2199), collectively titled Protecting America's Competitive Edge (PACE). The bills, which are separated into energy, education, and finance components, implement some of the 20 recommendations detailed in the National Academies' report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." Senator Domenici called the legislation a response to a "basic problem that America faces. We are very worried that we are having a terrific brain drain of Americans in the areas of physics, mathematics, science, and the like," he said. The five senators emphasized the positive impact the legislation would have on the American economy as a whole, as well as the benefits it would bring to their individual states.

Specific components of the bills include creating new scholarships for undergraduate education, graduate research, and teacher training in math, science, and technology; doubling the basic research budgets of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Defense (DOD); establishing an Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), modeled after the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); reforming visa and immigration policy; and doubling and making permanent the research and development (R&D) tax credit. Senator Alexander stressed the importance of considering the legislation as a whole. "We need to do it all," he said. "Our goal is not to get to 50 yards."

PACE represents a growing congressional focus on US competitiveness and innovation. In early December, Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) introduced three similar bills (H.R.4434, H.R.4435, H.R.4596) to the House. Just over a week later, Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John Ensign (R-NV) introduced the National Innovation Act (S.2109), based on recommendations in an innovation report conducted by the Council on Competitiveness. Senate staff members have noted that the National Innovation Act and the PACE legislation are complementary. The President has also turned executive attention to US competitiveness. In his annual State of the Union address he unveiled another innovation proposal, the American Competitiveness Initiative (see other article).

A summary of the innovation legislation by AGI's Government Affairs program is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/innovation.html

The full text of each bill can be viewed on Thomas by inserting the bill number in the search tool at http://thomas.loc.gov/

Senate Continues Hearings on Response to Katrina

On January 24, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee continued its investigation of the response to Hurricane Katrina with a hearing on the state of emergency preparedness in Louisiana before and after the 2004 Hurricane Pam emergency preparation exercise. The federally-funded storm simulation was designed to coordinate local, state, and federal responses to a catastrophic hurricane. Pam was designed as a slow-moving, Category 3 hurricane that hit New Orleans directly and caused extensive mock damage throughout 13 Louisiana parishes. Pam's fictional aftermath included 10 to 20 feet of flooding in New Orleans, overtopped levees, evacuation of over a million people, and 60,000 deaths. The exercise also predicted overcrowded hospitals and shelters, food and water shortages and flooded highways.

The witnesses, representing local, state, and federal levels of government and the contractor responsible for the Hurricane Pam simulation, all confirmed that emergency plans were in place before the Pam exercise. The ultimate goal of the exercise was to create a "bridging document" between these various plans; however, the final plans were incomplete at the time of Hurricane Katrina. State and local officials complained of a series of delays and a lack of funding for post-exercise planning. Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) questioned the pre-landfall evacuation plans and the role to be played by the federal government. The federal and state officials explained that the responsibility for emergency evacuation lies first with local and state governments, and that FEMA steps in only if federal aid is requested. In spite of this, Jesse St. Amant of the Plaquemines Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness stressed that Pam had demonstrated that a hurricane of Katrina's magnitude was "beyond the state and local capability," and that "FEMA should have been prepared to support them."

House Science Committee to Investigate Accusations by NASA Climate Scientist

Stories published in the New York Times and the Washington Post on January 29, say that climatologist James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, stated that NASA officials had ordered public affairs staff to review his lectures, papers, and website postings before they are made available to the public. In response, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) sent a letter to Dr. Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator on January 30. In his letter, Boehlert criticized NASA officials, stating "NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him." He also noted that House Science Committee staffers are setting up meetings to investigate the issue. On February 3, Michael Griffin acknowledged problems with the public affairs office in an email to NASA employees. The Washington Post reported that the email stated "It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."

Boehlert's full letter is available at http://www.house.gov/science/press/109/109-184.htm.

Evolution Round-Up -- Philosophy of Design Course Dropped in California

The El Tejon School District in southern California agreed to stop teaching an elective course, entitled "Philosophy of Design" at Frazier Mountain High School after 11 parents filed a lawsuit claiming that the course violates the separation of church and state clause of the constitution. The syllabus for the class said "This class will discuss Intelligent Design as an alternative response to evolution. Topics that will be covered are the age of the earth, a world wide flood, dinosaurs, pre-human fossils, dating methods, DNA, radioisotopes, and geological evidence. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

The full syllabus and more details about this case and other political challenges to the teaching of evolution are summarized at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html

Managing Risk in Earthquake Country

The Seismological Society of America (SSA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The society's Centennial Annual meeting will be held in San Francisco from April 18 - 22 and will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The meeting is joint with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's Eighth U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering and the Disaster Resistant California Conference of the California Office of Emergency Services.

AGI, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) have organized a policy session on Wednesday, April 19 and a tutorial session on Friday, April 21. The tutorial will provide information, exercises and discussion about how government works and how to communicate with policymakers. Congressional members, congressional staff and state legislators will participate in our discussion. In addition, scientists and engineers, who have worked for a member of Congress for one full year as Congressional Science Fellows will share their perspectives. The tutorial session is entitled "How to Communicate with Policy-Makers". You may sign-up for this free session on the conference website after you have registered for the conference.

More information about the joint conference is available at: http://www.1906eqconf.org

The Benefits of Seismic Monitoring

In January 2006, the National Academies released a report entitled "Improved Seismic Monitoring, Improved Decision Making, Assessing the Value of Reduced Uncertainty". The study was commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey and the objective was to provide advice about the economic benefits of seismic monitoring with emphasis on the benefits of implementing the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The report concludes that investments in monitoring of tens of millions could potentially save hundreds of millions in future losses.

The full report is available at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11327.html

Bureau of Land Management Opens More Land for Drilling

On January 11, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to open 390,000 acres in the northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) for oil development. The USGS estimates that drilling in this area could result in up to 2 billion barrels of oil over the next several years.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, expressed his approval of the Administration's decision. "With oil hovering at $60 a barrel and some analysts expecting it to climb higher, America must develop more of its own oil," he said. "Those who clamor for energy independence certainly recognize that increased production has to be part of that equation." House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) was more reserved in his approval, noting that production in only 2,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would yield 10.4 billion barrels of oil. "Opening this area of the NPRA is a step in the right direction when it comes to increasing American supplies of energy," Pombo said, "but opening the tiny portion of ANWR would take U.S. energy policy forward by leaps and bounds."

Statements from Domenici and Pombo are available at http://energy.senate.gov/ and http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/Press/releases/2006/0112npra.htm

MMS Releases Hurricane Impact Details and Request Research Areas

On January 19, 2006, the Minerals Management Service released its analysis of the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on offshore platforms and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the MMS press release, "3,050 of the Gulf's 4,000 platforms and 22,000 of the 33,000 miles of Gulf pipelines were in the direct path" of these two hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina destroyed 46 platforms and damaged 20 others, and Hurricane Rita destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32 others. There was "no loss of life or significant oils spills from wells on the outer continental shelf (OCS) attributed to either storm." In response to this damage on OCS offshore facilities, MMS has requested research proposals in six subject areas: "(1) Assess and evaluate pipeline movement or damage; (2) Assess and evaluate platform damage; (3) Provide hurricane hindcast data; (4) Evaluate and assess the performance of jack-up rigs; (4) Assess methods to eliminate hydrates in pipelines and risers during startups after hurricanes; and (6) Assess the response of waves and currents throughout the water column in the northern Gulf of Mexico slope and shelf." Details on the impact assessment of offshore facilities are available at http://www.mms.gov/ooc/press/2006/press0119.htm

USGS Releases Latest Minerals Productions

On January 24, the U.S. Geological Survey released its "Mineral Commodity Summaries 2006," an annual report on non-fuel mineral production. According to the press release, the "value of U.S. non-fuel production rose last year to $51.6 billion", which is an increase of 13% from the previous year. The value of domestically processed mineral materials is estimated to be $478 billion. The continued growth of mine production and processing is primarily due to the high demand for these goods from the growing economies in China and India. The annual report is available online and provides detailed information about events, trends, and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries for 2005. It also provides a summary of industrial trends for about 90 individual commodities.

The Mineral Commodity Summaries 2006 is available at, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/

Encourage Members to Join the Congressional Hazards Caucus

The Congressional Hazards Caucus, a bicameral caucus of congressional members concerned about natural and man-made hazards has sent letters to their colleagues in the House and Senate inviting more members to join the caucus. Currently the caucus membership includes 16 senators and 11 representatives, and is led by four co-chairs from each chamber. The Senate co-chairs are Ted Stevens (R-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), and the House co-chairs are Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Dennis Moore (D-KS), Jo Bonner (R-AL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

Please write letters (sent by fax or email) or call members of your congressional delegation and encourage them to join the caucus if they are not already members. A list of the current members is available on the Hazards Caucus Alliance web site at www.hazardscaucus.org.

AGI's Government Affairs Program has also sent out an action alert with sample letters to send to members and more details about the caucus. For more information, please see: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/hazardscaucus_alert.html.

Congressional Visits Day Scheduled for March 28-29

The 11th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) is scheduled for March 28 and 29, 2006. 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 congress. More information about CVD is available at http://www.aas.org/policy/cvd/. The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific research. If you are interested in attending the CVD please contact the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org so we can help coordinate your visit.

AGI Welcomes Our New Spring Intern

Jenny Fisher, the new AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern, joined AGI's Government Affairs Program on January 18th. Jenny earned her B.S. in planetary science from Caltech last June and will be returning to school next fall to begin graduate studies in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard. She has recently returned to the US after spending the past six months teaching in London. While at AGI, she will be following legislation related to American innovation and competitiveness, the FY07 budget, and the response to Hurricane Katrina, among other topics.

Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences 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/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

EPA: The EPA's National Environmental Education Advisory Council will have a public meeting on February 16-17, in Washington, DC. [Federal Register: January 18, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 11)].

DOE: The Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory announced a funding opportunity (DE-PS26-06NT15430) related to enhanced oil and natural gas production through carbon dioxide injection. There is a workshop related to this announcement that is tentatively scheduled for February 22-23, 2006. Additional information on the workshop is available at http://www.pttc.org. Additional information on the funding announcement is available at http://grants.gov. [Federal Register: January 30, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 19)].

New Updates to the Website

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:

  • Innovation and US Competitiveness (1-31-06)
  • Hearings on Climate Change Issues (1-25-06)
  • Hearings on Hurricane Katrina (1-24-06)
  • NAS Report: Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future
  • Action Alert: Come to Capitol Hill for Congressional Visits Day on March 28-29, 2006 (1-10-06)
  • Action Alert: William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship Deadline Approaching (1-09-06)

Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Jenny Fisher 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Margaret Anne Baker, Government Affairs Staff..

Sources: Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs website, PACE press conference and legislation, American Institute of Physics, E&E Daily, House Committee on Science website, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, House Resources Committee website, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources website, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Library of Congress, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Federal Register.

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Posted February 6, 2006.