Monthly Review: February 2003
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.
President Bush Releases Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request
As reported in a series of special updates (with more to come), President Bush released his fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget request on February 4th. Overall, the FY 2004 request looks a lot like the president's FY 2003 request for geoscience-related programs. The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $896 million, more than the president proposed a year ago but 2.5% below the FY 2003 level signed into law later in February (see below). Where last year's proposed cuts focused on water programs, this year the focus was on mineral resource assessments, seismic networks, mapping research and geospatial data collection.
The National Science Foundation proposes a $5.48 billion budget, up 9% from the previous year's request but just over 3% more than FY 2003. Within that total, the Geosciences Directorate would receive $688 million, almost identical to the FY 2003 level. The EarthScope project would receive $45 million from NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account, up 50% from the project's first installment in FY 2003.
Similar to last year's request, the most dramatic cuts proposed for the Department of Energy's research and development (R&D) budget involve the oil and natural gas programs. The president requested $15 million for oil R&D, down 65% from FY 2003. The budget would effectively eliminate all upstream exploration and production research, cutting that account to $2 million, down from $23 million provided in FY 2003. The cuts to natural gas R&D are less than proposed last year but still would represent a 43% cut from FY 2003 appropriated levels, down to $27 million. Elsewhere in the department, funding for basic geoscience research within the Office of Science is essentially flat and geothermal funding is down 15% from FY 2003. The request for Yucca Mountain is up 37% from FY 2003. The special updates are available at www.agiweb.org/gap. A final update that includes the request for NOAA, NASA, the Smithsonian, and other geoscience programs is forthcoming.
As reported in a special update, two weeks after the president released his FY 2004 budget request, Congress and the White House finally agreed upon funding levels for federal non-defense programs for FY 2003. The 3,000-page bill weighed in at $398 billion, putting the total FY 2003 discretionary spending level, including defense, at $792 billion -- well above the White House endorsed ceiling of $750 million. To aid in bringing the total closer to the spending cap, Congress agreed to a 0.65% across-the-board cut for most programs -- some social programs and the Space Shuttle program are exempt. Proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Geological Survey were largely restored with the Survey receiving $919 million. At the National Science Foundation, the Geosciences Directorate received $685 million, up 12.3% over FY 2002. In addition, the EarthScope initiative is funded at just under $30 million. Within the Department of Energy, basic research funding is flat, while funding is up for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project to $457 million. Although Congress has restored proposed cuts to the natural gas research and development (R&D) program, providing $47 million (up 4%), the petroleum R&D account receives a 25% cut to $42 million. Funding for NOAA programs totaled $3.1 billion, a 4% cut. At NASA, earth science funding is up 8.5% to $1.7 billion. The AGI Special Update on the FY 2003 bill is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/final_fy2003update0303.html.
On February 28th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled a draft of comprehensive energy legislation, including provisions for clean coal technology, automobile efficiency, and an increase to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Described by E&E Daily as "bare bones," the draft does not include more controversial provisions such as drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), ethanol mandates, and renewable portfolio standards. It is expected, however, that those and many other provisions would be added later as the bill makes its way to the floor combined with legislation produced by other committees -- particularly the House Resources, Science, and Ways and Means Committees. The draft's oil and gas related provisions include permanent authorization of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, enabling legislation for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope to the state's southern coast, and one calling for an EPA study of its regulation of hydraulic fracturing associated with coalbed methane extraction. Energy legislation is on a fast track and could make it to the House floor for a vote later this spring.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is also making headway towards its own comprehensive energy legislation through a series of recent hearings addressing oil and natural gas prices, supply, and potential on federal lands. The testimony focused on the need for a globally diverse oil supply and new domestic natural gas sources. Energy production on federal lands, such as ANWR and areas of the Rocky Mountains, continued to arouse debate with conflicting viewpoints on the quantity of oil and gas they contain, and the amount of land that is actually off-limits to exploration. Additional information is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html.
As reported in the December 2002 Monthly Review, the Bush administration has been soliciting a broad range of input on its draft strategic plan for the nation's climate change research initiatives, particularly the administration's new U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). In addition to holding a three-day stakeholder conference in December, the White House sought a formal review of the draft from the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academies. One of the major stated goals of the draft plan is to provide better scientific information to decision-makers in both the public and private sectors. But when a Research Council committee released its review on February 25th, the conclusion was that the plan "lacks a clean guiding vision and does not sufficiently meet the needs of decision-makers who must deal with the effects of climate change." They also expressed concern that the president's fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget request did not include additional funding for climate research despite proposing a number of new initiatives.
According to a National Academies press release, the committee did commend the program for providing "a solid foundation for future research by identifying some exciting new initiatives that build on the success of the Global Change Research Program, which has been funding valuable research for more than a decade." The committee gave CCSP high marks for emphasizing science that addresses national needs, and they identified important initiatives including "models that can offer trusted projections, or forecasts, of climate change, and cutting-edge research into aerosols and the carbon cycle that is needed to improve our understanding of climate change and variability." Nevertheless, the committee concluded that the draft strategic document "needs to be revised substantially" before it is finalized. This same committee will review the revised CCSP plan later in the year. The full report is available at www.nap.edu/catalog/10635.html?onpi_newsdoc022403. For more on climate policy issues, see www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html.
On February 20th, the National Research Council's Natural Disasters Roundtable held a forum marking the 25th anniversary of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). This interagency collaboration is led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) and includes USGS, NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The USGS has produced a fact sheet on its role in NEHRP, available on the web at geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/fact-sheet/fs017-03/. More on the forum at www7.nationalacademies.org/ndr/.
The following week, AGI and the Seismological Society of America co-hosted a congressional briefing entitled "Earthquake Monitoring for a Safer America." Part of a series organized by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the briefing was sponsored by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and House Research Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI). Speakers included Lucy Jones, scientist-in-charge for the USGS earthquake program in southern California; Bruce Clark, chairman of the California Seismic Safety Council; and Richard Howe, a structural engineer expert in seismic design from Memphis TN. With NEHRP due for reauthorization this year, the House Science Committee has tentative plans to hold a hearing in May and produce legislation shortly thereafter. The March 2003 issue of Geotimes contains a Comment written by Bob Hamilton in which he discusses the events that led up to the formation of NEHRP. It can be read online at www.geotimes.org/mar03/comment.html.
Mercury contamination recently re-emerged as an issue on Capitol Hill after the release of two reports indicating mercury levels are higher -- and the resulting health effects more severe -- than previously thought. The first report, released by the Environmental Protection Agency, finds that 1 in 12 woman had mercury levels at the upper limit of what is considered safe, placing 300,000 children at risk for brain damage. Another report by the United Nations Environmental Program calls for significant and rapid cuts to mercury emissions after finding that 1,500 tons of mercury are emitted annually from coal-fired power plants (almost 70% of all atmospheric mercury). The majority of these emissions originate in Asia and Africa; however, mercury deposition from the atmosphere occurs globally. The release of the reports prompted a congressional briefing on mercury focusing on recent research in the mercury cycle, specifically on mercury sources, variables involved in methylation (the microbial transformation of mercury into methylmercury, the most dangerous form of mercury), how mercury is transported through the ecosystem, and how the residence time of mercury in aquatic systems effect biological contamination. On February 28th, legislation to implement the president's Clear Skies initiative was introduced in both houses. The heart of the initiative is a cap-and-trade system to reduce powerplant emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. The EPA report, entitled America's Children and the Environment, is available at www.epa.gov/envirohealth/children/ace_2003.pdf. The UN report is available through www.unep.org/documents/default.asp?articleid=3204&documentid=277.
In a recently released report, a National Research Council committee recommended a staged approach for the construction, operation, closure, and post-closure of nuclear-waste disposal projects, including Yucca Mountain. Entitled One Step at a Time: The Staged Development of Geologic Repositories for High-Level Radioactive Waste, the report examined the application of what the committee called "adaptive staging" to geologic repositories for high-level radioactive waste. Adaptive staging is a management process that implements a project in stages allowing the flexibility to incorporate operational experience and scientific reevaluations. Such an approach can improve safety, reduce costs and environmental impacts, speed up schedules, and build public support. Specifically addressing the Yucca Mountain repository, the committee concluded that the Department of Energy (DOE) is currently taking a linear approach, setting unrealistic schedules and omitting public involvement in some decision processes. The department should instead switch to a more adaptive approach "to retain the option of reversing a decision or action while moving forward with disposal." The report, which was requested by DOE, can be read online at www.nap.edu/catalog/10611.html.
AGI encourages geoscientists to attend the 8th annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington on April 2-3, 2003. 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. As part of the first day, AGI and the American Geophysical Union are organizing a special briefing specifically on geoscience issues. More at www.agiweb.org/cvd.
AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students and recent graduates with a strong interest in federal science policy for a twelve-week geoscience and public policy internship in summer 2003. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their writing and Web-publishing skills. Stipends for the summer interns are made possible through the generous support of the AIPG Foundation. Applications must be postmarked by March 15, 2003. For more information, please visit www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html.
A recent feature of the AGI Monthly Review 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 www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at www.regulation.gov.
Every month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) releases final rule on Modified Base (1-percent annual-chance) Flood Elevations for several communities that are used to calculate flood insurance premium rates related to the National Flood Insurance Program. This month, these announcements were made in No. 24 (p. 5852-5854); No. 27 (10 February 2003): p. 6644-6646; and No. 28 (11 February 2003): p. 6823-6832 and 6847-6863.
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 Margaret A. Baker, David Applegate, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Charna Meth.
Sources: E&E Daily, federal agency budget documents, Greenwire, hearing testimony, Library of Congress, National Research Council, U.S. Geological Survey.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted March 5, 2003