Monthly Review: February 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.
Six months after Hurricane Katrina, a series of hearings and investigations have culminated in the release of reports by Congress and the White House. On February 15, the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina released its final report, "A Failure of Initiative." The report cites "failures at all levels of government," focusing on incomplete evacuations, the lack of a coherent National Response Plan, the unfamiliarity of federal agencies with their responsibilities, the lack of preparation within the Department of Homeland Security and the affected states, and problems of coordination and communication. The report also addresses problems with the levees, including the "diffuse" nature of responsibilities for levee maintenance, the lack of a warning system for levee breaches, and the fact that the levees were not built to withstand the most severe hurricanes. The House report is available at http://www.katrina.house.gov/.
About one week after the release of the House report, the White House released its own version, entitled "Hurricane Katrina, Lessons Learned." The White House Report also cites a number of government failures, including communications problems, delays in supply deliveries, and confusion among federal agencies about their roles in managing the disaster. Regarding levees, the report cites problems caused by the delay in reporting the breach of the levees, due mainly to a misunderstanding about the difference between breaching and overtopping. The White House report is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/reports/katrina-lessons-learned/.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also addressing the issue with over 30 studies related to the hurricane. In a preliminary statement released February 1, David Walker, the GAO Comptroller General, identified three key problems with the Katrina response: clear and decisive leadership; strong advance planning, training, and exercise programs; and capabilities for a catastrophic event. The GAO has since released specific reports on major emergency issues, hospital and nursing home evacuation, the National Flood Insurance Program, and fraud problems in FEMA's expedited assistance program. The GAO reports are available at http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/repandtest.html.
The Senate has not yet released a report on Katrina; however, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is continuing a series of hearings to investigate the disaster.
In addition to its recommendations, the White House report provides an updated assessment of the scope of the disaster. It cites an estimated $96 billion worth of damage caused by the hurricane and storm surge, including the destruction of roughly 300,000 homes. The storm created 118 million cubic yards of debris. In addition to property damage, Katrina caused 10 oil spills, releasing 7.4 million gallons of oil, over two-thirds the amount that was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It also caused 11 petroleum refineries to be shut down, preventing 114 million barrels of production capacity from being used.
The report also revises estimates of the human impacts of Hurricane Katrina. 770,000 people were displaced by the storm, 1330 were killed, and 2096 are still missing. The majority of the fatalities occurred in Louisiana, where 1080 people perished. In addition, there were 231 fatalities in Mississippi, 15 in Florida, 2 in Alabama, and 2 in Georgia.
Additional information on congressional action related to Hurricane Katrina is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/katrina.html
As reported in a series of AGI Special Updates, the President released his fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request at the beginning of February. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a healthy increase of 8% to its total budget and a 6% increase for the Geoscience Directorate while the Office of Science at the Department of Energy would receive a 14% increase. Geoscience programs in other parts of DOE and at other federal agencies are slated for a mixed bag of significant cuts to slight increases. Highlights from the President's budget request are given below and additional information on the request and the congressional budget process is available online, at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/appropsfy2007.html
The NSF budget request totals $6,202 million, which represents an 8% increase from last year's level of $5,581.2 million. Within this amount, $744.9 million would go to the Geoscience Directorate and $438.1 million would go to the Office of Polar Programs, a 12.5% increase. This amount for the Geoscience Directorate is a 6% increase from last year's allocation of $702.8 million and includes $11.2 million (+66%) for EarthScope operations. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities account includes $27.4 million for the final phase of implementing EarthScope - future funding for EarthScope is projected to come primarily from the Geoscience Directorate after FY 2007.
The DOE budget request totals $23,557 million, a slight decrease of $6 million compared to FY 2006 and includes $649 million for programs at the Office of Fossil Energy, a 23% decrease from last year's allocation of $842 million. Within Fossil Energy, oil and natural gas research and development would be eliminated. The President also requests that the Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Research Fund passed as a mandatory funding program with revenues through oil and gas leases in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 be repealed by future legislation. The Office of Science budget request is $4,102 million, a 14% increase from last year's level of $3,596 million, which includes $1,421 million (+25%) for Basic Energy Science programs. Funding for the Yucca Mountain project, which is divided between the Nuclear Waste Disposal and Defense Nuclear Waste Disposal accounts, requested $545 million, a 10% increase from last year's $495 million allocation.
The budget request for NASA totals $16,792.3 million, a 1% increase from last year's $16,623 million enacted level. Funding for the Science Mission Directorate total $5,330 million, a 1.5% increase from FY 2006, and includes $1,610.2 million (+2%) for programs under the Solar System Exploration account, $1,509.2 million (+0.1%) for activities supporting The Universe program, and $2,210.6 million (+2%) for programs under the Earth-Sun System.
The budget request for the USGS totals $944.8 million, a 3% decrease from last year's allocation. This amount includes $217.4 million (-8%) for Geological programs, $76.6 million (-41%) for Mapping programs, $204.4 million (-3.5%) for Water programs, and $172.6 million (-3%) for Geological Resources programs. The Mineral Resource Assessment program is again slated for a massive reduction and the termination of several activities. There are four projects highlighted in the budget request, including a new Integrated Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, the National Streamflow Information Program, the Energy Resources Program, and some new funding to begin development of the Landsat 8 ground system.
The budget request for NOAA totals $3,684 million, a 5.8% decrease from FY 2006 funding. Most major divisions are slated for a decrease with the exception of the National Weather Service that would receive $881.9 million a 4% increase and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service that would receive $1,034 million, a 8.6% increase. The National Ocean Service would receive a total of $413.1 million, a 30% decrease from last year's funding level, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would receive $348.7 million, an 8.2% decrease.
Additional information on each of these agencies as well as the budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency, other Department of the Interior agencies, and science education programs at the Department of Education are available from the Overview of Fiscal Year 2007 Appropriations webpage, at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/appropsfy2007.html
In 2004 President Bush signed the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) reauthorization (P.L. 108-360). This legislation reauthorized NEHRP for another five years and authorized $176.5 million dollars in spending spread over four agencies (NIST, FEMA, USGS and NSF). As the lead agency, NIST was eligible to receive $8 million in FY 2004, $10 million in FY 2005 and $13 million in FY 2006, however, NIST has not received any funding in these years and the program remains without coordinated leadership. For FY 2007, the President's request calls for $2 million for earthquakes, wind hazards, wildfires at the urban interface and complex systems-multihazard analysis. About 70% of these funds will be for NEHRP and wind hazards. NIST has recently named a new director, Jack Hayes, to run the NEHRP program and the four agencies will establish an advisory committee. In the near future, NIST will put out a request in the Federal Register for nominations for this committee and also for comments on revisions to the strategic plan which needs to be updated for 2006-2010. There will also be a special session at the 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference on Monday, April 17 at 4:00 to 5:30 pm to explain the process for establishing an advisory committee and updating the strategic plan. Representatives from all four agencies will be at this session and members of the Earth science community are welcome to attend. Please follow updates from AGI's Government Affairs Program, the Federal Register or the special session of this conference so you can provide input for NEHRP leadership at NIST, the strategic plan and the advisory committee.
For more information about the session and the conference please
Join us for the 11th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) on March 28-29, 2006. This two-day annual event brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. This year's theme is closely tied to the National Academies' report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" and the issue of national competitiveness. Several bills have been introduced in Congress to increase federal support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at all levels and to increase federal support for basic research in the physical sciences. President Bush has also announced his American Competitiveness Initiative. There is wide-spread bi-partisan support for the recommendations from the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report, and this support provides an ideal time for the geoscientist to communicate with members of Congress. Individuals interested in participating should contact the Government Affairs Program at email@example.com.
Additional information on the recent competitiveness bills and proposals is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/innovation.html
The Forum will bring together the presidents, executive directors and AGI council representatives for a full day of discussion on "Communicating Geosciences to the Public". This year's Forum is a collaborative effort, organized by AGI, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. The Forum will be hosted by the American Geophysical Union at their Washington DC headquarters on May 1. A summary of the forum, the presentations of the speakers and other details will be posted on AGI's webpage under AGI events. We hope this will be a very constructive and productive meeting for the member societies.
There were many sessions at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in St. Louis related to the teaching of evolution in public schools. On February 17, there was a symposium and clinic on "Teaching and Learning About Science". Speakers in the symposium encouraged members of local communities to get involved in their local school systems to ensure quality science education. They also supported inquiry-based science education as an effective way to improve the understanding of scientific concepts and motivate students to study the many intriguing facets of science. There was considerable discussion about whether teachers should identify their own religious beliefs in the classroom and about how science and religion might be discussed in a philosophy class.
On February 18, there was a session on "Constitutional Law and Evolution" which focused on legal battles related to teaching evolution in public schools. The attorneys who spoke noted that the Supreme Court has never defined religion or science and they suggested that it may not be possible or appropriate for the court to do so. In deciding cases regarding the separation of church and state, they rely on the Lemon test, the endorsement test and the coercion test. The Lemon test formulated by Justice Burger based in the majority opinion for Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) determines when a law has the effect of establishing religion. The endorsement test, formulated by Justice O'Connor determines when a law causes excessive entanglement with religious institutions and suggests government endorsement or disapproval of religion. The coercion test, formulated by Justice Kennedy, determines when a law coerces religious participation or support. The attorneys suggested that the Supreme Court is now almost evenly divided between conservative and liberal perspectives and Justice Kennedy is the only "swing" vote left. Justice Kennedy may not support the endorsement test in future deliberations because he did not favor the test in previous cases. So without defining religion or science, the court may be left with the Lemon test, the coercion test and the possibility of defining a new test based on a specific case.
On February 19, there was a morning session on Anti-Evolution sponsored by the Alliance for Science which reviewed some of the history and current debates about teaching evolution in public schools. The Alliance for Science describes its mission to achieve public understanding and support for science and they are encouraging more scientists to join their alliance. Information about the alliance is available at www.allianceforscience.org.
An afternoon session entitled "Evolution on the Frontline", sponsored by the AAAS and the Geological Society of America, brought in more than 140 K-12 teachers and about 140 scientists to listen to several speakers, take part in a small survey and discuss the priorities of the survey in a panel discussion. In the survey the teachers were asked to list their top 4 priorities regarding the teaching of evolution from a list of 10. The top 4 picked by the teachers were (1) Need help with how teachers should respond to the question "Why not teach the controversy"; (2) Need help with framing the issue so that students know they should approach science with open minds, but understand that teachers are not equivocal about teaching evolution; (3) Need help with reducing the amount of time and pressure they experience when dealing with objections from a few students or parents; and (4) Need help with answers to basic questions about evolution.
Video and power point presentations of the full session are available
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.
On April 17, a special session on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) has been added to the schedule of events. This session will bring together representatives from the four agencies responsible for NEHRP to discuss the formation of an advisory committee and the updating of the strategic plan. There may also be a field hearing organized by the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction on April 18 and several members of Congress have been invited to speak at the conference throughout the week.
More information about the joint conference is available at: http://www.1906eqconf.org
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is beginning to develop their strategic plan for 2009-2013 and they are requesting input from the community on priorities. NOAA's administrator sent out an email and asked "As you think about NOAA priorities, please consider the issues and trends that you believe are key to effective long-term NOAA planning, focusing on emerging societal needs, market trends, and technologies that could affect NOAA's portfolio of services." You can submit your comments by March 9, 2006, via NOAA's Program Planning and Integration website (www.ppi.noaa.gov), or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will find NOAA's current strategic priorities at: http://www.ppi.noaa.gov/AGM_FY08.pdf.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) released a draft proposed 5-year
plan for the oil and natural gas leasing program on the outer continental
shelf (OCS) and is seeking public comment. More than 85% of the OCS
around the lower-48 states has been placed off limits to energy development
by presidential withdrawals or congressional moratoria. The current
draft proposal includes studies to look at the potential for oil and
gas development off the coast of Virginia and a previously undeveloped
area in the North Aleutian Basin off the coast of Alaska. The inclusion
of these two areas is in response to discussions with the state legislatures.
The draft proposal includes 21 OCS lease sales in seven of the 26
OCS planning areas. MMS will accept public comments through April,
10, 2006. Additional information on the draft proposed plan and on
how to submit comments is available at http://www.mms.gov/5-year/2007-2012main.htm
In early February, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) released a white paper designed "to lay out some of the key questions and design elements of a national greenhouse gas program in order to facilitate discussion and the development of consensus around a specific bill." Rather than advocate specific viewpoints on a potential greenhouse gas reduction program, the white paper poses four key questions that Senate staff hope will induce discussion between policymakers, industries, and environmentalists. The questions are: (1) Should regulations apply to specific sectors or to the economy as a whole, and should the regulatory process be "upstream" (targeting energy producers and suppliers) or "downstream" (targeting emitters)? (2) Should regulatory costs be mitigated through allocation or auction of allowances, and who should receive allocated allowances? (3) Should the U.S. system be designed to eventually allow trading with other systems worldwide? (4) Should the U.S. system encourage "comparable actions" by major trading partners?
The committee is currently seeking public comments in response to the White Paper. Comments should be submitted to Climate_Conference@energy.senate.gov by 5 pm EST on Monday, March 13th following the guidelines at http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Conferences.Detail&Event_id=4&Month=4&Year=2006. A limited number of responders will be invited to participate in the Conference on Climate Change being held on Tuesday, April 4th.
The full text of the Climate Change White Paper is available at http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=IssueItems.View&IssueItem_ID=33.
On February 3rd, the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Alliance
hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on "Benefits of Mitigation: Overview
of Assessments of Future Savings" that focused on the recently
released reports by the Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC) and the
National Academies of Sciences (NAS). The MMC report, entitled "Natural
Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future
Savings from Mitigation Activities" was the topic of the first
half of the briefing, with David Maurstad, Acting Mitigation Division
Director and Federal Insurance Administrator for Federal Emergency
Management Agency providing the opening statement. Thomas Tobin, MMC
Project Manager, and Adam Z. Rose, an economist at Pennsylvania State
University, provided an overview of the MMC report and key findings.
The second half of the briefing focused on the NAS report, entitled
"Improved Seismic Monitoring, Improved Decision Making, Assessing
the Value of Reduced Uncertainty", was the focus of the presentations
by William Leith, Advanced National Seismic System Coordinator, and
Adam Z. Rose, an economist at Pennsylvania State University. Information
about the speakers and copies of their presentations are available
online at http://www.hazardscaucus.org/briefings/assessments_briefing0206.html
On February 9, 2006, the State Council of China vowed to double research
investment over the next 15 years. They urged defense companies to
develop new technologies for the civilian economy and civilian companies
to develop new technologies for the People's Liberation Army. The
Council (similar to the U.S. Cabinet) will set-up mechanisms to make
the research and development of civilian and defense companies more
interactive. According to the New China News Agency, the plan notes
"As a rapidly developing country, China must put the emphasis
on basic research in order to achieve national goals and solve key
problems that could appear in the future." Key technologies that
need more support include software, telecommunications, nuclear energy
and the military-managed space program. The Council would like to
see research and development spending rise from 1.23% of the gross
domestic product in 2004 to 2.5% of the gross domestic product in
On February 8th, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) held briefings in the House and the Senate to discuss a new position statement entitled "Renewing Investment in Ocean Research." The statement, which was adopted in December 2005, endorses the findings of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Specifics of the Commission's report include implementing a framework of ecosystem-based ocean management, increasing funding for basic ocean research, developing a comprehensive ocean observing system, improving ocean modeling capabilities, modernizing the entire fleet of research vessels, and increasing investments in ocean education. Speaking at the briefing, Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), Co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus, noted the importance of ocean research to a number of disparate groups, including fishermen, oil companies, and coastal populations. "We're all in it together," Farr said. Dr. Steven Bohlen, Chair of AGU's ocean statement panel, added, "We are damaging the oceans, and what we don't know could hurt us."
The full text of AGU's ocean research position statement is available at http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/oceaninvest.shtml.
The Geological Society of America and the University of New Orleans have released a white paper entitled "The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana: America's Coasts Under Siege." Written by Mark Kulp and Shea Penland of the University of New Orleans along with Duncan Fitzgerlad of Boston University, the report details the economic importance of the Louisiana coastal zone and the human-induced loss of land in the region. The authors recommend either strategically re-engineering the coast or planning a managed retreat from the coastal areas where hazard risks are greatest. They conclude that "To lift the siege on coastal Louisiana demands strategic, federally supported plans that address the entire coastal zone and provide strong coastal management policies that place preservation of the coastal zone above individual stakeholder needs."
The white paper is available at http://www.geosociety.org/science/gpp/wp_0602katrina.pdf.
A bill that requires every federal agency with extramural research expenditures in excess of $100 million to develop a public access policy for published research may be introduced in Congress in the near future. The policy would request authors to submit the final manuscript of an article accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal to a stable digital repository maintained by the agency. The final manuscript can be replaced by the published version with the consent of the publisher. The manuscript must be made available for public access no later than 6 months after publication. This policy is similar to the National Institutes of Health Open Access policy. The legislation has not yet been introduced in Congress, however, the government affairs staff at AGI is closely following this issue and we will update the community when any legislation is considered.
The Fairness in Asbestos Resolution (FAIR) Act of 2005 (S.852) lost a February 14 vote to remain on the Senate floor. The bipartisan bill would reform the current litigation-based system of compensation for asbestos victim by establishing a $140 billion trust fund financed by insurance companies and asbestos manufacturers. To move forward, the bill required 60 votes to overrule a budgetary point of order. It came in one vote short at 59-40.
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), who sponsored the bill along with Senator
Pat Leahy (D-VT), is confident that the bill will return to the Senate
Floor for another vote. "Senator Inouye told me he would vote
to overrule the point of order which would have provided the sixtieth
vote and victory but he went home because his wife was sick,"
Specter stated in a press release following the vote. He has since
met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Frist said he would
like to bring the bill back for another vote eventually, but that
the Senate is currently focusing on the Patriot Act. In the meantime,
Senator Specter is working to gain additional support for the act.
"We may change another vote or two," he said, "so we
may win this one yet."
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 2006. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone 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, 2006. For more information, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/internsu.html.
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.
DOI: The DOI's Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Advisory Committee will hold a meeting on March 2, 2006, in Washington, DC, to discuss subcommittee reports. Additional information on the committee is available at, http://restoration.doi.gov. [Federal Register: February 15, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 31)].
DOI: The Bureau of Land Management will hold listening sessions to solicit suggestions from the public on how best to implement the split estate provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. BLM is to review current policies and practices for managing oil and gas resources in split estate situations, that is, how the BLM provides for oil and gas development and environmental protection where the surface estate is privately owned and the mineral estate is owned and administered by the Federal Government. Listening sessions will be scheduled during late March 2006 in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Washington, DC. Additional information is available at http://www.blm.gov/bmp. [Federal Register: February 15, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 31)].
EPA: The EPA is soliciting nominations for scientists to serve on
the Science Advisory Board to conduct an evaluation of the complex
scientific and technical issues that affect the causes, location,
magnitude and duration of the hypoxic zone in the Northern Gulf of
Mexico, as well as the priority and feasibility of management and
control options in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf to reduce
it. Nominations should be submitted by March 10, 2006, by contacting
Dr. Holly Stallworth, Designated Federal Officer, EPA Science Advisory
Board Staff, at email@example.com
or (202) 343-9867. [Federal Register: February 17, 2006 (Volume 71,
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 Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Jenny Fisher 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Margaret Anne Baker, Government Affairs Staff..
Sources: American Geophysical Union website, E&E Daily, Press Releases of Senators Frist and Specter, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website, Geological Society of America website, Washington Post, New York Times, NOAA National Hurricane Center, Government Accountability Office, and Minerals Management Service.
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Posted February 28, 2006.