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Monthly Review: February 2009


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.

1. Economic Stimulus Contains Support for Geoscience
2. President Obama Releases Broad Budget Outline for Fiscal Year 2010
3. House Approves Fiscal Year 2009 Budget
4. Update on Key Cabinet and Executive Branch Positions
5. Congress Considers Tougher Measures for Coal Ash Pit Disposal
6. House Introduces Fair Copyright Bill
7. EPA Reconsiders California Waiver
8. EPA Close To GHG Emission Ruling
9. Yucca Mountain Regulations Move Ahead Slowly As Alternatives Explored
10. Legislatures in Two States Look to Implement Carbon Sequestration Bills
11. Brookings Calls for a New Bold Approach to Energy Research
12. DOE Report Calls for a “Game-Changing” Shift in Energy Development
13. Environmental Research and Education Report Released
14. Russia Releases Climate Change Report
15. The Role of Universities in Entrepreneurial Growth and Economic Stimulus
16. NGWA Announces Annual Ground Water Awareness Week
17. Texas Considers Earth and Space Science Standards
18. New Oceans Feature Makes Waves with Google Earth
19. Geoscientists: Join Us for Congressional Visits in April and September
20. A New Policy Associate for Government Affairs
21. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Our Spring Intern
22. Please Take This AGI Monthly Review Survey
23. Key Federal Reports
24. Key Federal Register Notices
25. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Economic Stimulus Contains Support for Geoscience

On February 13, 2009, Congress passed H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, and President Obama signed it into law on February 17. The law allocates $787 billion in supplemental appropriations, tax credits, tax cuts, and other measures over a one to two year time period. The goal of the law is to create and save 3.5 million jobs, provide tax cuts to 95% of American workers, invest in infrastructure, restore science and innovation as integral parts of solving societal issues, and rapidly invest to revive a struggling economy. No House Republicans supported the bill and only 3 Senate Republicans voted for it.

Within H.R. 1, significant funding is designated for science, technology, and infrastructure. Geoscience-related federal agencies receiving supplemental appropriations include the Department of Energy ($23.1 billion), the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.2 billion), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ($4.6 billion), the National Science Foundation ($3 billion), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($1 billion), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($836 million), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Geological Survey ($140 million).

Federal agencies are now in the processed of writing out plans for spending the supplemental appropriations and sending these plans to Congress for approval. Although agencies have 60 days to submit plans, many are likely to submit their plans sooner so they can get the funds distributed and move projects forward. In many cases, Congress worked with agencies on the bill beforehand and has provided funding for projects that were ready to go.

NSF Director Arden Bement released a statement that said “The $3 billion provided to NSF will go directly into the hands of the nation's best and brightest researchers at the forefront of promising discoveries, to deserving graduate students at the start of their careers, and to developing advanced scientific tools and infrastructure that will be broadly available to the research community.” 

New Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a special team to conduct a complete restructuring of the dispersal of direct loans, loan guarantees and funding in the stimulus. Please visit agency web sites or contact agency officials for more details.

New Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is concerned that he does not have enough upper level positions filled to deal with the $3 billion stimulus given to his department. Nonetheless each major office and service has identified a prioritized list of projects that are ready to go. For example, the National Park Service identified $9 billion worth of projects that are backlogged only because of insufficient funds. Concerns remain that some projects might be delayed by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

More details about geoscience-related supplemental appropriations are available from an AGI Special Update.

For information about how the funds are being used, timelines for reporting spending and other details, please see the Administration website.

2. President Obama Releases Broad Budget Outline for Fiscal Year 2010

On February 26, President Obama released his first budget request to Congress. The request for fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriations lists funding requests for major departments and agencies, but does not provide detailed numbers for divisions or programs within these larger institutions. More details will come in April after the new Administration has had more time to consider priorities and hopefully has more federal leadership positions filled.

The budget request is accompanied by several statements from the administration. One document entitled “Inheriting a Legacy of Misplaced Priorities” focuses on an analysis of the U.S. economy with several interesting graphs that emphasize the administration’s message. There is one section about clean energy investments. The section concludes with the following statement “Beyond clean energy, we have not kept up with investing in the basic science and research that will power this sector and the entire economy in decades to come. In fact, as a share of GDP, American Federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970.”

A second document entitled “Jumpstarting the Economy and Investing for the Future” calls for greater investments in science, clean energy and education. Two additional suggestions of particular interest to the geoscience community are: 1. Create a national infrastructure bank to support direct federal investments in infrastructure projects and to foster co-investments by states and the private sector and 2. Account for future emergencies by recognizing the statistical likelihood of natural disasters and including $20 billion annually for emergencies in budget projections.

Below is a summary of budget requests for programs of interest to the geoscience community. Note the requests are compared to FY08 enacted levels because Congress has not passed a budget for FY09. So the budget increases may seem large because the comparisons are to budgets over a two year period rather than a one year change.

*** National Science Foundation (NSF) ***
The request is for about a 16 percent increase ($950 million) over fiscal year 2008 (FY08) for a total budget of about $7 billion for NSF. In addition, NSF will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09. Highlights of the request include making climate change research and education a priority, encouraging promising high-risk research and investing in the education of technicians at two-year colleges. In the out years, the budget would grow to $9.7 billion in FY14.

*** National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ***
The request is for about an 8 percent increase ($1.5 billion) over FY08 for a total budget of about $18.7 billion in FY10. In addition, NASA will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $1 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09. In the out years, the NASA budget would decrease to $18.6 billion for three years with a small increase to $18.9 billion in FY14. Highlights of the request include a commitment to space-based climate change research, returning humans and robots to the Moon, retiring the shuttle and building a new space flight system and support for the International Space Station.

*** Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ***
The request is for about a 40 percent increase ($3 billion) over FY08 for a total budget of $10.5 billion in FY10 for EPA. In addition, EPA will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $7.2 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09. In the out years, the budget would receive small increases to reach a total budget of $10.9 in FY14.

New EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, praised the very large investment in EPA in the stimulus and the President’s request. She stated “We are no longer faced with the false choice of a strong economy or a clean environment. The president’s budget shows that making critical and responsible investments in protecting the health and environment of all Americans will also lead to a more vibrant and stable economy. With these proposed resources, and the president’s strong environmental agenda, it should be overwhelmingly clear that EPA is back on the job.”

*** Department of Commerce ***
The Department of Commerce is proposed to receive about a 74 percent increase ($5.9 billion) over FY08 for a total budget of $13.8 billion. About $4 billion of the requested increase is for the 2010 Census. In addition, the department will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $7.9 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration request is about $1.3 billion for the development and acquisition of weather satellites and climate sensors plus climate and ocean research, including funds for understanding and monitoring ocean acidification. This would be in addition to a supplemental appropriation of $830 million for NOAA research, facilities, vessels and satellites in ARRA.

In the out years, the budget for the Department of Commerce would decrease to $8.1 billion on FY11, to $7.9 billion in FY12 and then modestly increase to $8.7 billion in FY14.

*** Department of Energy ***
The Department of Energy is proposed to receive about a 9 percent increase ($2.2 billion) over FY08 for a total budget of $26.3 billion. In addition, the department will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $38.7 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09.

Highlights of the request include support for carbon capture and storage technology, investments in clean energy research and development, investments in reducing nuclear proliferation, securing and disposing of nuclear waste and investing in innovative science to detect and deter nuclear smuggling. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program is requested to be scaled back while the administration develops a new strategy for nuclear waste.

The request would also repeal the ultra-deepwater oil and gas research and development program enacted by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In the out years, the total budget of DOE would see small increases to about $28.3 billion in FY14.

*** Department of the Interior ***
The Department of the Interior is proposed to receive about a 3.4 percent decrease to about $11.3 billion. Although the department is one of the few that will decrease in the President’s request, the department will receive a special supplemental appropriation of $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in FY09.

Highlights of the request include an extra $100 million for national parks, $420 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund with growth to $900 million by FY14, an extra $130 million to monitor and assess the impacts of climate change on lands, fish and wildlife, and $50 million for renewable energy projects on Federal lands. There were no details provided about the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the out years, the total budget of the Interior would see small increases to reach about $13 billion in FY14.

3. House Approves Fiscal Year 2009 Budget

On February 25, 2009, the House quickly approved the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105), which would provide appropriations for most federal agencies for fiscal year 2009 (FY09). Currently most agencies are operating under a continuing resolution (CR) from the 110th Congress, which essentially sets budgets at fiscal year 2008 levels. The CR expires on March 6, 2009, so Congress must either pass the omnibus or propose a new continuing resolution in order to avoid a shut down of the federal government. The quick action on the omnibus in the House means that the 111th Congress plans to pass an omnibus providing new appropriations for most federal agencies.

The House has sent the measure to the Senate, which will consider it during the first week of March. Significant changes are not expected as the House and Senate Appropriation Committees appear to have worked out differences left by the committees of the 110th Congress from 2008 before introducing H.R. 1105. They released a joint explanatory statement to explain the budget priorities. The 111th Congress must work fast to compromise any remaining differences in order to get the bill to the President by March 6.

Below is a summary of the funding levels for agencies of interest to the geoscience community in H.R. 1105.

*** National Science Foundation (NSF) ***
The omnibus provides $6,940.4 million for NSF, about a 6 percent increase ($362.9 million) over FY08. Research and Related Activities would receive $5,183.1 million ($339.1 million increase), Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would receive $152 million ($68.7 million decrease) and Education and Human Resources would receive $845.3 million ($119.7 million increase). The research activities would be allowed to use as much as $54 million for polar icebreaking services and NSF would only reimburse the Coast Guard for sums already agreed to in a memorandum of understanding. Within the education activities, as much as $55 million would be for the Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

*** National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ***
The omnibus provides $17,782.4 million for NASA, an increase of about 2 percent ($380.5 million increase) over FY08. Science would receive $4,503 million ($203.2 million decrease), Aeronautics would receive $500 million ($11.7 million decrease), Exploration would receive $3,505.5 million ($362.4 million increase), Space Operations would receive $5,764.7 million ($238.5 million increase) and Education would receive $169.2 million (+$22.4 million). NASA is also directed to provide a plan for retiring the Space Shuttle by 2010, consistent with President Obama’s FY10 budget request which includes retiring the shuttle.

*** National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ***
The omnibus provides $4,365.2 million for NOAA, an increase of about 9.5 percent ($376 million increase) over FY08. The National Ocean Service would receive $497 million ($38 million decrease), the National Weather Service would receive $847.9 million ($63.5 million decrease), Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) would receive $396.7 million ($1.4 million decrease) and Education programs would receive $32.3 million ($1.8 million decrease).

More detailed text and tables with funding levels for specific programs within NOAA are available in the text of the bill and in the joint explanatory statement. Please visit the House Committee on Rules for the details here.

*** U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ***
The omnibus provides $1.044 billion for the USGS, an increase of about 3.7 percent ($37 million increase) over FY08. Geologic programs would receive $242 million ($1.3 million decrease), geographic/mapping programs would receive $72.3 million ($5.4 million decrease), water resources programs would receive $221.4 million ($844,000 increase), biological programs would receive $185.3 million ($5.5 million increase) and the global climate change programs would receive $40.6 million ($33 million increase; some of the increase is from the transfer of funds into this programmatic title from other accounts and thus is not really new spending).

The bill fully funds the Landsat Data Continuity Mission ($24.15 million) and the Landsat 5/7 program ($16 million). For hazards, there are increases of $3.5 million for the earthquakes portion of the multi-hazards initiatives, $2 million for volcano hazards research and $1.5 million for the global seismographic network. Related to coastal assessments, $3 million is provided for extended continental shelf mapping in the Arctic Ocean and $1 million for the ocean action plan coastal geology effort.

Within water resources, the Water for America Initiative is not funded and the joint statement requests a more detailed evaluation of the program before any funding is considered. There is an increase of $2 million for the stream gage network and the National Water Quality Assessment Program would receive $65 million, a slight increase over FY08 rather than the more drastic cuts proposed by President Bush in 2008.

The newly created Global Climate Change Program account would receive $40.6 million, for a real increase of about $13 million over FY08 when the transfer of programs from other accounts are excluded. The bill specifies that $10 million of these funds are for the National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center and $3 million is to implement the biological and geological carbon sequestration studies called for in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

*** Department of Energy (DOE) ***
The omnibus provides $26,967 million for DOE, an increase of about 10 percent ($2,478 million increase) over FY08. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $1,928.54 million ($206 million increase), Fossil Energy would receive $876.3 million ($133.4 million increase), and Science would receive $4,772.6 million ($754 million increase). Few details about funding levels for specific programs within the major offices are provided in the text or joint statement, so those interested in specific details will have to contact DOE. There are a significant number of earmarks and these are listed in long tables in the bill.

The text of the bill with annotations and the joint explanatory statement of the House and Senate appropriations committees are available from the House Committee on Rules here.

The official text of the bill, congressional actions and other summaries will be placed on Thomas as they become available.

In addition to this summary, more details on appropriations for these and other federal programs are available from the AGI Government Affairs FY09 Appropriations page.

4. Update on Key Cabinet and Executive Branch Positions

Over the past month the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held two confirmation hearings, the Office of Science, Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each gained another appointee, and President Obama nominated a third choice for Secretary of Commerce and a second choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Dr. John Holdren were vetted simultaneously at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on February 12. Lubchenco is anticipated to be the next Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Holdren is poised to be the next Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). At the hearing the two were praised by both republican and democratic members of the committee for their previous research and work. The mostly uncontroversial hearing ended with Chairman Rockefeller (D-WV) bypassing the full committee vote and instead requesting the nominations move straight to the Senate floor for a speedy confirmation. Though Rockefeller stressed that he wanted to get the two “on the job as soon as possible,” the vote has yet to happen on the Senate floor.

Kei Koizumi is the new assistant director for federal research and development at the OSTP. In his new post, he will be overseeing federal R&D budget issues and tracking funding. He was previously the director of the R&D budget and policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and has been serving on the Obama transition team as part of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform Policy Working Group.

Jon Cannon was appointed the new EPA deputy administrator after serving on Obama’s EPA transition team. Cannon wrote the memo on greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation that prompted a local nonprofit to demand the EPA to include GHG emissions as part of the Clean Air Act. This disagreement led to a Supreme Court mandate that the EPA review the dangers of GHG emissions. By appointing this former University of Virginia law professor and general counsel for the EPA under Clinton, Obama is furthering the promise of a quick ruling by the EPA on whether or not to include GHG emissions in the Clean Air Act. Cannon’s views, though, may prompt tough questioning as he continues through the confirmation process.

The position of Secretary of Commerce has been uncharacteristically difficult to fill. President Obama first nominated New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who withdrew his name because of a corruption investigation. He then picked Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), who originally accepted but ultimately decided his political views differed too greatly from the President’s. Now Obama has nominated former Washington Governor Gary Locke in the hope that the “third time is the charm.” Locke would have control over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which accounts for 60 percent of the Commerce Department’s budget.  Locke was one of the original authors of the West Coast Governors Global Warming Initiative, which led to the Western Climate Initiative. He has been praised by environmental groups as a champion of environmental policy and economic development.  Locke received his bachelors in political science from Yale University, and his law degree from Boston University.

President Obama has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s first choice was forced to withdraw because of tax problems. Sebelius served in the Kansas House of Representatives for 8 years and then as the Kansas Insurance Commissioner before being elected governor. She has been a popular governor, praised for eliminating a $1 billion debt, reducing state government waste, working in a bipartisan fashion and strongly supporting education.

5. Congress Considers Tougher Measures for Coal Ash Pit Disposal

The December 2008 spill of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge into residential areas and the Emory River near Kingston, Tennessee after a break in a containment pond wall prompted Congress to consider modifying current coal ash disposal regulations. The Coal Ash Reclamation, Environment, and Safety Act of 2009 (H.R. 493), proposed by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), would require mandatory design and performance standards on coal ash impoundments to make them consistent with similar enclosures used for slurry waste in the coal mining industry. New requirements proposed in the bill include a geotechnical analysis of an embankment’s foundation area, an assessment of past surface mining activity at the proposed location of a structure, and mandatory inspection by a certified engineer during and after construction of the structure.

“We need to learn a lesson from what happened at Kingston, Tennessee. This issue cannot be ignored” stated Rahall at a February 12, 2009 subcommittee hearing. The bill was challenged by Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) for not including a funding mechanism for enforcement of new standards. The bill currently calls for a 6-month time frame for implementation, although John Craynon of the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining said it was unlikely the new standards could be in place in that short of a timeframe. Despite the potential delay, Rahall stated he was flexible with the timeframe and plans to bring the bill to full committee for mark-up as soon as possible. 

6. House Introduces Fair Copyright Bill

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has introduced a measure that would eliminate the National Institutes of Health public archive of published scientific research. The “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” (H.R. 801) would eliminate PubMed Central, a digital archive of peer-reviewed journal articles that were funded in whole or in part by the National Institutes of Health. The legislation would also prevent other federal agencies from establishing similar archives.

This measure is favored by some non-profit professional societies and for profit publishers because it protects the value and copyright of their journal articles. The measure is opposed by some institutions, libraries and associations because it limits access to published research.

Here is the summary of the measure as prepared by the Congressional Research Services and posted on Thomas:

“Prohibits any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of specified exclusive rights of a copyright owner in an extrinsic work.

Prohibits any federal agency from: (1) imposing, as a condition of a funding agreement, the waiver of, or assent to, any such prohibition; or (2) asserting any rights in material developed under any funding agreement that restrain or limit the acquisition or exercise of copyright rights in an extrinsic work.

Defines 'funding agreement' as any contract, grant, or other agreement entered into between a federal agency and any person under which funds are provided by a federal agency for the performance of experimental, developmental, or research activities.

Defines 'extrinsic work' as any work, other than a work of the U.S. government, that is related to a funding agreement and is also funded in substantial part by, or results from a meaningful added value contributed by, one or more nonfederal entities that are not a party to the funding agreement.”

7. EPA Reconsiders California Waiver

During his first week in office, President Obama issued an executive order asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its decision to deny California’s request for a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions waiver. As of February 6, the EPA has opened the waiver for review and is accepting public comments on possible changes. It will also hold a public hearing in March.

California first requested permission to set a stricter standard for GHG emissions within the state in 2005. It cited its battles with air pollution as the primary reason for deviating from federal standards. The previous EPA Administrator Stephen Jackson denied the request in March 2008, saying that adhering to President Bush’s national approach to GHG emissions standards would be more effective. If the EPA grants California the waiver this time around, 17 other states are set to adopt the same stringent standards. The vehicles in these 18 states make up 50 percent of the auto market, so the waiver would markedly impact the auto industry’s emissions standards.

8. EPA Close To GHG Emission Ruling

The new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the agency is close to deciding whether or not greenhouse gases (GHG) are dangerous to human health and welfare. If the EPA rules that GHG are indeed a danger to humans, it will be required to regulate gases such as carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The decision is expected to come by April 2, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that spurred this investigation. The previous administrator remained quiet on the subject, deciding only to pass the decision off to the next administration. If added to the list, GHGs would join other pollutants already federally regulated by the act, challenging the EPA to figure out how to monitor GHG emissions.

9. Yucca Mountain Regulations Move Ahead Slowly As Alternatives Explored

On February 16, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the EPA’s 1 million year allowable radiation levels of 15 millirem for the first 10,000 years and 100 millirem thereafter. This is just one step, though, in getting the NRC to approve the application requesting Yucca Mountain as the long-term geologic repository for U.S. civilian nuclear waste. The application was finally submitted in June 2008 after numerous delays, and at this point the earliest Yucca Mountain could be operable is 2020. After two decades of planning, the nuclear industry is understandably worried about the fate of the program.

Alongside this small victory came the call from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for a back-up plan. The NEI asked President Obama to create a commission to explore alternatives to long-term storage, like recycling or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The administration plans to look into alternatives while continuing to cut funding for the project. The House succeeded in cutting another $100 million from the project in the 2009 spending omnibus passed on February 25 and the President’s request for 2010 allows only for a review of the project. Despite continued problems and calls from opponents to withdraw the site, Energy Secretary Steven Chu supports following through with the licensing process as a learning experience. So the project struggles on, despite repeated efforts to terminate the whole process.

10. Legislatures in Two States Look to Implement Carbon Sequestration Bills

Republicans in the Montana state legislature drafted a bill at the end of February that would set the table for carbon sequestration in the state, a necessary step for future development of coal-fired power plants and other coal-related technologies according to Governor Brian Schweitzer (D). The bill would set up a program under the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to manage carbon capture and subsurface storage operations within the state. Although encouraged by their colleagues to recognize problems associated with global warming in the state, Montana Democrats still indicated more issues need to be resolved, especially with ownership legalities and specific methodologies of subsurface storage before any bill passes the legislature.

Wyoming, the nation’s largest producer of coal, is even further along with developing regulations for a carbon sequestration program with the passage of several bills in the state that continue to outline carbon storage rights. In 2008, Wyoming became the first state to address carbon storage by passing legislation that stated surface owners also own underground storage rights. The two states carbon sequestration legislation mark a continuing trend of state initiatives to combat carbon emissions and other global warming issues as cohesive federal legislation fails to pass.

11. Brookings Calls for a New Bold Approach to Energy Research

Presenting at the National Press Club on February 10th, the Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program proposed a bold, new initiative of creating a network of regionally based energy “discovery-innovation” institutes (e-DIIs) across the nation. Such a shift in how the U.S. conducts energy research aims to renew the American economy, energy security, and to address global climate change. The Brookings report, “Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes: A Step toward America's Energy Sustainability”, calls for these institutes to function as hubs of a research network connecting the nation’s top scientists, engineers, and facilities. This network would facilitate quick transfer of data and resources between research universities and laboratories resulting in accelerated movement of innovative technologies to the marketplace.

National Association of State University and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) president Peter McPherson stated at the event that “the Brookings proposal is exceptionally clear about just how unsustainable our way of life has become and the challenges we face in completely restructuring energy production, distribution, and use to fit within the natural limits of our climate and environment.” McPherson further added that “Perhaps the report’s most important point is that energy research, technology development, and commercialization are grossly underfunded, by as much as an order of magnitude.  We are talking about the need for a large influx of new resources, not simply a reallocation of what we already have.” Although the Brookings proposal involves a paradigm shift to the approach of solving energy problems in the United States, McPherson emphasized the need for the shift to occur internationally as well. He sees the Obama Administration playing an important role in the transfer abroad of both technologies and paradigms shifts in terms of energy use.

12. DOE Report Calls for a “Game-Changing” Shift in Energy Development

A December 2008 report from a subcommittee of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Basic Energy Sciences (BES) Advisory Committee stated that current approaches to resolving today’s energy issues are not up to task, and that the rate of improvement is too slow to meet the needs of the nation. The report further explained that current efforts need to be “propelled forward by paradigm-changing breakthroughs: new ideas that change ‘the rules of the game.’” The BES office of the DOE, as described in the report, is to play a pivotal role in this transformation. Although the authors also note that engineers, scientists, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs must also work in concert to promote the movement of innovative technologies to the marketplace.

The report emphasized that BES must lead U.S. energy research efforts in the direction of new discoveries and pool together “dream teams” of highly educated talent and give them the most advanced tools to increase the rate of discovery. The report tasks BES with leading a national effort to recruit the best talent through workforce development and early career programs to inspire young talent nationwide to strive to be the discoverers and innovators for tomorrow’s energy solutions.

13. Environmental Research and Education Report Released

In early February 2008, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) released recommendations relating to environmental and sustainability research and education policy, based on findings from NCSE’s eight annual National Conferences on Science, Policy and the Environment from 2000-2008. The recommendations, found in the report Environmental Research and Education Needs: An Agenda for a New Administration, were collected from over 5,000 participating scientists, engineers, students and decision-makers over the past 8 years. The recommendations identified research needed for improvement of scientific knowledge and the education necessary to improve public understanding, professional capacity, and maintenance of a strong workforce.

The report indicated that current investment in environmental and energy research and education is inadequate, and that this lack of investment is limiting the ability to overcome today’s environmental, economic, and other societal challenges. The report also stated that multi- and interdisciplinary efforts are essential in taking on the many challenges facing society, and that current efforts must be invigorated by competitively awarded merit-based research. Another key recommendation was to link scientific information with policymakers. Findings from this report have been provided to research and education leaders in the Obama Administration. For more information, contact Dr. David Blockstein, Senior Scientist, 202-207-0004, david@NCSEonline.org  

14. Russia Releases Climate Change Report

Russia released an “Assessment Report on Climate Change and its Consequences in the Russian Federation” in February. The report projects an increase in mean annual temperature along the Arctic coast over a period from 2041-2060, and subsequent lengthening of the ice-free period in the Arctic Ocean. With these projections, the goal of the Russian government to create a Northern Sea Route and develop Russia as an accessible coastal nation is much more feasible.

The General Summary (available in English) and the Technical Summary (only available in Russian) are available from the Russian Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Service.

15. The Role of Universities in Entrepreneurial Growth and Economic Stimulus

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management reported findings at a Capitol Hill briefing on February 17, 2009 regarding the importance of universities in spurring innovation and entrepreneurial growth as well as stimulating economic recovery on both regional and global scales. The study, based on a 2003 survey of MIT alumni, also included detailed analyses using updated 2006 economic data. Findings showed that if all of the MIT alumni-founded companies worldwide and associated support businesses were combined into a single independent nation, that nation would be at least the 17th-largest economy in the world.

The study was conducted by E.B. Roberts and C. Eesley and presented at the briefing hosted by the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, whose mission is to advance innovation and catalyze economic growth beyond “small businesses.” As an example of the regional importance of a university, the study indicated that nearly 40 percent of the software, biotech, and electronics companies founded by MIT graduates are located in the state of Massachusetts, even though only 10 percent of MIT freshman come from instate. On a national scale, half of the companies created by MIT’s foreign-student alumni are located within the U.S., which provides additional economic opportunity and growth for the U.S.      

Link to internet article on MIT news website.

16. NGWA Announces Annual Ground Water Awareness Week 

The National Ground Water Association (NGWA), the nation’s leading authority on the use and protection of ground water, announces its annual Ground Water Awareness Week. The event, which spotlights ground water as a valuable and renewable resource, will be held the week of March 8-14, 2009. This year NGWA is promoting the importance of well maintenance, and urges well owners to have their wells serviced annually. According to the NGWA, annual checkups of wells by certified experts are the best way to ensure uninterrupted service of water and consistent water quality. The NGWA also stresses that good well maintenance can prolong the life of a well and associated equipment, and preventative maintenance is often times less expensive than emergency repair of a well.

More information on wells can be found at the NGWA’s website for well owners.

In addition, more information on the NGWA’s 2009 Ground Water Awareness Week can be found here.

17. Texas Considers Earth and Space Science Standards

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) will be voting on revised and new science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), including those for the new Earth and Space Science (ESS) course for Texas public high schools, on March 25, 2009. A TEKS-ESS working group of ten individual Earth scientists including high school teachers, teacher trainers, college professors and industry geoscientists worked for about a year to develop the standards for ESS. In January, a subset of SBOE members requested changes to the standards that would add confusion about Earth science and question basic geologic concepts such as plate tectonics and transition fossils.

The ESS standards are open for public comment until March 25. The geoscience community in Texas and in the rest of the country is strongly encouraged to write the SBOE and offer support for the standards developed by the TEKS-ESS working group. Other groups have mobilized to oppose the standards and insert non-scientific standards, which may overwhelm the thoughtful and effective work of Earth scientists in Texas. In addition, because Texas is such a large state, the TEKS have a significant influence on textbook publishers throughout the country and while your state may not adopt non-scientific standards, the textbooks used in your classes might.

Comments can be sent to sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us. This email address will reach all board members, though you may also direct your comments to a specific member through this address by noting their name.

The recommended high school standards for science are available as a PDF here.

The transnational, non-partisan, non-profit Center for Inquiry provides more information about the Texas SBOE and TEKS here.

18. New Oceans Feature Makes Waves with Google Earth

On February 2, 2009, Google introduced a major upgrade of its popular planetary image viewer, Google Earth (GE). Now users of GE can view the depths of the Mariana Trench or their favorite scuba-diving location as easily as looking at their parent’s neighborhood. The latest version, GE 5.0, is enhanced with bathymetric information from dozens of research institutions and organizations, and provides the capacity to view the topography of the entire planet’s ocean floor in three dimensions.

In addition to the ocean floor surface, 20 ocean layers are now available in GE 5.0 that contain archived information ranging from fertile fishing grounds to famous shipwrecks to daily ocean temperatures courtesy of the U.S. Navy. David Sandwell, professor of geophysics at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and a key leader in gathering the vast amounts of bathymetric data of the ocean, feels the new GE ocean feature can be a powerful tool for geoscientists and earth science educators. “Our global seafloor map on Google Earth opens new possibilities for users to explore Earth's most remote ocean environments, such as the East Pacific Rise and Mariana Trench," stated Sandwell after the announcement of the GE 5.0 launch. With only about 5% of the ocean floor mapped in detail, Google developers and marine researchers hope the enhancement to GE will spur interest worldwide into further sea exploration and conservation.   

In addition to the Oceans feature, GE 5.0 includes the Historical Imagery viewer. This feature allows users to view all available historic imagery as well as the most current images, thus providing the opportunity to view changes in the landscape over timescales of up to several decades. Earth scientists can use this feature to track changes in landforms, erosional patterns, land use, glacial size/movement, vegetative patterns, or any other modifications to the Earth’s surface through the timeframe available at a given location.         

Read the full NY Times article on their website.

19. Geoscientists: Join Us for Congressional Visits in April and September

Geoscientists are welcome to join organized groups of scientists and engineers for workshops and visits with congressional members and committees in April and September. The purpose of the visits is to explain the value of science and engineering and to request needed investments in research and education.

The Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group is organizing workshops, events and visits for April 28-29, 2009. Several geoscience societies, including AGI, AAPG, AGU and GSA, are involved in these events and we expect a large number of geoscientists to participate. Please contact Linda Rowan, rowan@agiweb.org, Director of Government Affairs at AGI or the public policy office of one of the other geoscience societies for more details and to sign-up.

More information about the Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day is available at: www.setcvd.org.

The Geosciences Working Group is organizing workshops, events and visits for September 15-16, 2009. Several geoscience societies, including AGI, AAPG, AGU and GSA, are involved in organizing these events and we expect a large number of geoscientists to participate. Please contact Linda Rowan, rowan@agiweb.org, Director of Government Affairs at AGI or the public policy office of one of the other geoscience societies for more details and to sign-up. Geosciences have a significant role to play in federal policy and advice from citizen geoscientists is very important.

20. A New Policy Associate for Government Affairs

Corina Cerovski-Darriau returns to the AGI Government Affairs team this month in a new role. Corina was one of the 2008 AGI/AIPG summer interns and has now been hired full-time as the Government Affairs Policy Associate. She graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in geology and a minor in Peace and Conflict studies. She is grateful that her summer experience has enabled her to get a running start, and looks forward to working with the new Congress and Administration on progressing science policy.

21. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Our Spring Intern

The spring 2009 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Program Intern Clint Carney comes to AGI from Colorado where he has spent the last few years working towards an MSc degree in hydrology at the Colorado School of Mines. Clint earned his BS in geology and environmental studies at Iowa State University and an MS in geology at Northern Illinois University prior to working professionally as a hydrogeologist for a multi-agency groundwater modeling study of the High Plains aquifer in Nebraska. Clint is also a registered professional geologist in the state of Nebraska.

22. Please Take This AGI Monthly Review Survey

We have prepared a brief survey of the AGI Monthly Review. Please click here to answer the questions. It should only take a few minutes and we would really appreciate receiving your comments. Thank you!

23. Key Reports and Publications-February 2009

*** Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Wind Energy: Offshore Permitting. Released February 18, 2009. This report discusses the current legalities of permitting offshore wind turbines in waterways under federal and state jurisdiction. 

U.S. Energy: Overview and Selected Facts and Numbers. Released February 3, 2009. This report provides an overview of the nation’s aggregate energy consumption, along with detailed analysis of trends/statistics regarding specific sources of oil, electricity, natural gas, coal, and renewables. A special section on energy efficiency is also presented. 

Alternative Fuels and Advanced Technology Vehicles: Issues in Congress. Released January 27, 2009. This report provides an overview of current issues and obstacles surrounding alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles.

*** Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Clean Air Act: Historical Information on EPA’s Process for Reviewing California Waiver Requests and Making Waiver Determinations. Released January 27, 2009. This is a summary report from the GAO to members of the U.S. Congress detailing the process for granting the state of California waivers from Clean Air Act regulations. 

*** National Science Foundation (NSF)
National Science Foundation’s Special Report on 150 Years of Darwin’s On Origin of the Species. Released February 12, 2009. Contained in this special interactive report are essays and video interviews with 12 scientists in the biological, geological, and polar sciences, astronomy, and anthropology, with discussion on the influence of Darwin’s work and predictions on what the next big scientific discoveries will be.

*** National Academies of Science (NAS)
Restructuring Climate Change Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change. Released February 26, 2009. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program should broaden its focus beyond understanding and detecting climate change to include research that would support how regions and communities could cope with the impacts of climate change.

Urban Stormwater Management in the United States. Released February 23, 2009. A new publication from the NAS press covering the challenges facing society regarding proper management of stormwater, both in terms of the quantity and quality of surface water after storm events.

New Directions in Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts, and Adaptation Assessment: Summary of a Workshop. Released February 23, 2009. This document summarizes a National Research Council workshop at which presentations and discussion identified specific needs associated with the gap between the demand and supply of scientific information about adapting to climate change.

Launching Science: Science Opportunities Provided by NASA's Constellation System
Released February 23, 2009. This document reports the findings of a National Resource Council evaluation for the potential for new science opportunities enabled by the United States Space Exploration Policy released in 2004. 

Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Two Years Later. Released February 23, 2009.
This report provides a synopsis of information provided in the April 29, 2008 Convocation on the 2-year anniversary of the release of the Gathering Storm report.

Research and Applications Needs in Flood Hydrology Science: A Summary of the October 15, 2008 Workshop of the Planning Committee on Hydrologic Science. Released February 18, 2009. This report summarizes the October 15, 2008 Workshop on Planning Committee on Hydrologic Science involving future application needs dealing with extreme flooding events.

24. Key Federal Register Notices

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency announced it is delaying by sixty days the effective date of the final rule that amends the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations published in the Federal Register on December 5, 2008. Thus, the amendments will become effective on April 4, 2009. EPA is requesting public comment on the extension of the effective date and its duration, and on the regulatory amendments contained in the final rule. Public comments can be submitted online until March 5, 2009 by following the instructions www.regulations.gov for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OPA-2007-0584.
[Tuesday, February 3 (Vol. 74, No. 21)]

DOE- The Department of Energy (DOE) is providing a Notice of Opportunity for Technical Assistance (NOTA). The purpose of the NOTA is to support the goal of DOE's Solar America Initiative (SAI) to reduce the cost of solar photovoltaic technologies so that they become cost-competitive with grid electricity by 2015. For more information on this program, visit http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/solar_america/index.html.
[Thursday, February 5 (Volume 74, Number 23)]

DOI- The U.S. Geological Survey announces a price increase for primary series quadrangles, thematic maps, national earthquake information center maps, and large format and poster maps. The increases in prices are as follows: (1) 7.5 minute 1:20,000-scale, 1:24,000-scale, 1:25,000-scale, 1:63,360-scale, and 7.5 minute x 15 minute 1:25,000-scale, 1:63,360-scale, 1:100,000-scale and 1:250,000-scale primary series quadrangles from $6.00 to $8.00 per quadrangle. (2) Thematic maps and small scale National Park maps from $7 per sheet to $9 per sheet. (3) National Earthquake Information Center maps bearing private sector copyright from $10 per sheet to $12 per sheet. (4) Large format and poster maps from $7 per sheet to $10 per sheet. Prices for these products were last revised 7 years ago and are adjusted to accurately reflect and ensure recovery of the costs associated with their reproduction and distribution.
[Monday, February 9 (Vol. 74, No. 25)]

DOI- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host a Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting via Webcast and teleconference on March 13, 2009 from 12-2pm EST. This meeting is open to the public, but will be limited to 75 public participants. The meeting agenda will include a briefing by the Synthesis Subcommittee on the latest draft of Recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior. If you wish to participate, register online by March 6, 2009. For further information contact: Rachel London, Division of Habitat and Resource Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, (703) 358-2161.
[Monday, February 23 (Vol. 74, No. 34)]

NSF- The National Science Foundation (NSF) is soliciting public comment on the agency's proposed implementation of Section 7009 of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act. This section of the Act requires that “each institution that applies for financial assistance from the Foundation for science and engineering research or education describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project.” For information on NSF's implementation of the America COMPETES Act, contact Jean Feldman in the Policy Office, Division of Institution & Award Support at (703) 292-8243 or jfeldman@nsf.gov.
[Thursday, February 26 (Vol. 74, No. 37)]

25. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

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Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program and Clint Carney, AAPG/AGI Spring 2009 Intern.

Sources: Greenwire, Associated Press, Environment and Energy Daily, New York Times, Washington Post, Google Blog, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Thomas, and the White House.
************************************************************************
This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.  Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <http://www.agiweb.org>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at  <govt@agiweb.org> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.

TO SUBSCRIBE OR UNSUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG

Posted March 2, 2009.

 

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