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Monthly Review: March 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.

ANWR Debated on Two Legislative Fronts
Budget Resolutions Set Fiscal Goals for FY 2004
House and Senate Revive Comprehensive Energy Legislation
EPA Withdraws Clinton-Era Clean Water Rule
House Science Committee Looks at Foreign Science Students
DOE Announces Yucca Mountain Delay
Senate Committee Passes High Plains Aquifer Bill
Role of Science in Everglades Restoration Probed
Comments Sought on Draft Interior Department Plan
Senators Receive AASG Pick & Gavel Award
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

 

ANWR Debated on Two Legislative Fronts

The North Slope of Alaska is a long way from Capitol Hill, but the debate over exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) loomed large in both congressional budget and energy debates during March. Contributing to the debate was the release of a report by the National Research Council (NRC; the operating arm of the National Academies) on the environmental, social and economic impacts from the past 30 years of North Slope petroleum exploration and development. According to a NRC press release, the committee preparing the report found both negative and positive effects, but "the committee noted that is was beyond the scope of its study to say whether the benefits derived from oil and gas production justify the accompanying undesirable environmental consequences." Subsequently, ANWR was a topic at several hearings as Republicans in both houses of Congress prepared to unveil the latest incarnation of comprehensive energy legislation (see related story on energy hearings).

ANWR proponents also sought to include a provision in the fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget resolution (see related story) assuming future ANWR revenues and charging the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with passing legislation that opens ANWR, ensuring those revenues materialize. In what may be a bellwether for future ANWR consideration this Congress, several moderate Republicans joined Democrats in a 52-48 vote to keep the provision out of the Senate's version of the budget resolution. But the topic is sure to come up in conference committee when the two chambers meet to draft a final resolution. Leading ANWR proponent Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) took the defeat personally, ominously asserting: "The people who vote against this today are voting against me, and I'll not forget it." As chairman of the powerful, pork-distributing Appropriations Committee, Stevens's words carry particular weight. More at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/anwr.html.

Budget Resolutions Set Fiscal Goals for FY 2004

The House and Senate are in the process of finalizing the non-binding budget resolution that provides an outline for total federal spending in FY 2004. The final resolution is not passed on to the White House for enactment; rather it is the congressional response to the president's budget proposal, a financial plan that Congress agrees to follow both in the appropriations process and in legislation affecting entitlement programs, taxes and other matters affecting revenue. Thus, the budget resolution not only determines how much the 13 individual appropriations bills can spend but also serves as a vehicle to debate tax packages and, as noted above, ANWR. On March 26th, the Senate accepted its version of the budget resolution, providing a total of $791 billion for discretionary spending. A provision to reinstate the corporate Superfund tax, which expired in 1995 and has been hostage to the long-standing debate over comprehensive Superfund reform legislation, failed to receive a majority within the Senate. The House accepted its $775 billion version – which provides 1 percent less for discretionary spending than was provided in FY 2003 -- the previous week, setting up what looks to be a very difficult conference between the two chambers. In addition to the $16 billion difference, the two versions also differ in the size of the tax cut package requested by President Bush. These differences are complicated by the fact that Congress is spending much of its time drafting emergency spending legislation to finance the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. A side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate budget resolutions prepared by the majority staffs of the House and Senate Budget Committee can be found at www.senate.gov/~budget/republican/analysis/2003/sideBYside.pdf.

House and Senate Revive Comprehensive Energy Legislation

Following a series of hearings in February, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) unveiled a draft comprehensive energy bill to serve as a starting point for debate over energy policy in the Senate. The draft legislation does not include drilling in ANWR but does call for building a natural gas pipeline to Alaska’s North Slope and lifting some drilling restrictions on public lands and the outer continental shelf. On the House side, Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton’s (R-TX) draft energy legislation was passed by the full Energy and Commerce Committee, surviving relatively unchanged after a long mark-up in the subcommittee. Democrats attempted to insert a number of amendments that sought to increase environmental protection, but all of them failed. Barton argued against most of the amendments, often stating that they mischaracterized the situation, or were not comprehensive enough in their scope. The Energy and Commerce Committee's bill will be combined with legislation under consideration in the House Ways and Means, Resources, and Science Committees to form the House version of the comprehensive energy bill. It is expected that the full bill will be considered on the House floor in mid-April. More at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html.

EPA Withdraws Clinton-Era Clean Water Rule

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman announced on March 13th that the agency has withdrawn a 2000 rule revising how EPA regulates non-point source pollution under the Clean Water Act. The withdrawal reflects strong opposition in Congress and from states and other stakeholders to the Clinton-era rule that gave EPA more oversight of state programs setting Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for waterways. One provision of the rule required EPA to review and accept state and tribal programs, allowing EPA to step in and manage programs that it deemed unsuccessful. Congress delayed the rule's implementation to April 30, 2003 and required that the National Academy of Sciences first review and comment on the effectiveness of the proposed rule. Whitman noted that the withdrawal of the 2000 rule will allow the agency to work with stakeholders to improve TMDL programs. Expected in the next few months is the Bush Administration's proposal to deal with non-point source pollution. Additional information on the rule withdrawal is available at www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/.

House Science Committee Looks at Foreign Science Students

On March 26th, the House Science Committee held a hearing to examine visa backlogs and problems with the federal government's foreign student tracking system. Witnesses discussed the new security measures implemented by the U.S. Department of State to more closely screen foreign students and scholars applying for visas to study science and technology in the U.S. They also discussed how the resulting backlog, when combined with problems with the newly implemented Immigration and Naturalization Service database to track foreign students, is hampering work at U.S. universities and potentially threatening national security. Committee members had a variety of reactions to the issues. Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (D-TX) sent a letter to the General Accounting Office requesting better data on the extent and nature of the visa backlog. The committee plans to continue to evaluate these issues, with this hearing representing just one in what will be a long series of hearings on how the war on terrorism is affecting the U.S. research enterprise. More at www.house.gov/science/hearings/full03/index.htm. Over the past three months, Geotimes has run a series of news articles by Lisa Pinsker scrutinizing the impacts of 9/11 on the geosciences. They are available at www.geotimes.org/apr03/NN_data.html, www.geotimes.org/mar03/NN_sevis.html, and www.geotimes.org/feb03/NN_travels.html.

DOE Announces Yucca Mountain Delay

The Department of Energy's (DOE) goal of opening the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository by 2010 seems less likely after the department announced another delay in the licensing process. At a meeting of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (USNRC) Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste, DOE reported that it will submit its construction license application for Yucca Mountain in 2005, a few months after the previously delayed date of December 2004. The original deadline was October 2002, 90 days after President Bush's official designation of the site, as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. At a hearing earlier in the month, House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) told the DOE witness that, while the subcommittee supports the Yucca Mountain project, missing the submittal deadline is "not acceptable." The day before the postponement was announced, the USNRC released its second draft of the formal guidelines it will use to evaluate the DOE’s license application. While federal law sets the licensing criteria for Yucca Mountain, the "Yucca Mountain Review Plan, Draft Final Revision 2" outlines how the USNRC plans to review the application material to assure that DOE is in compliance with the regulations. The state of Nevada has previously filed suits with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit over the regulations that define the licensing criteria. According to Greenwire, these pending litigations recently prompted the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to place the DOE’s suit attempting to gain the permanent water rights at Yucca Mountain on hold until after the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on Nevada’s other cases, which are expected to begin in September. The USNRC's Yucca Mountain Review Plan is available at www.nrc.gov/waste/hlw-disposal/ml030800361.pdf.

Senate Committee Passes High Plains Aquifer Bill

On March 6th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on S. 212, a bill to authorize the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to work with the eight states that overlie the High Plains Aquifer -- Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming -- to map, model, and monitor the aquifer. Co-sponsored by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy committee, Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), as well as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), the bill received unexpected opposition from the administration at the hearing. William Alley, Chief of the Office of Ground Water for the USGS, testified that while agreeing with the need for groundwater monitoring, the administration was concerned about the bill’s cost and believed better local and state coordination could achieve the goals of the bill without federal legislation. Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) voiced the concern of the American Farm Bureau that (despite previous testimony to the contrary) the bill would begin the federalization of groundwater and stated that the legislation is unnecessary because the USGS already studies the aquifer. Bingaman responded that because the aquifer covers multiple states, federal means should be provided to study its depletion and map its extent, which has not been done in 20 years. Although the original version of the bill would have provided funds to state geological surveys for studies and assistance with water depletion issues, that provision and several others were dropped from a revised bill that the committee passed by voice vote. For more on the bill, see the Geotimes Web Extra by Greg Peterson at www.geotimes.org/mar03/WebExtra032003.html.

Role of Science in Everglades Restoration Probed

The Department of the Interior (DOI), in its role to provide science to the comprehensive Everglades restoration project, came under scrutiny last week at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies. The hearing coincided with the release of the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report "South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: Task Force Needs to Improve Science Coordination to Increase the Likelihood of Success." The report identified gaps of vital scientific information in the restoration project occurring on both ecosystem levels (e.g., the effects of invasive species, pesticides, and pollutants) and project levels (e.g., understanding water salinity in Biscayne Bay). Also, the report found that the Everglades project lacks the proper coordination, direction, and recourses needed to carry out its responsibility, a conclusion that also was drawn by a National Research Council report -- "Science and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration: An Assessment of the Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative" -- initially released last December with a final version released at the hearing. Many of the subcommittee members expressed concern over the lack of scientific coordination and the appearance that DOI is not an equal partner in the Everglades restoration project with the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) commented that DOI and the Army Corps of Engineers have different interests in the restoration efforts, and it was DOI’s responsibility to look out for the interests of the nation. Ann Klee, Counsel to the Secetary of the Interior and Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, adamantly defended DOI’s role in the Everglades restoration project, especially in the RECOVER program, which includes a large scientific component. She conceded that the Science Coordination Team was underutilized, but stated that this was because the past two years have been spent developing a legal framework for the Everglades project. The GAO report is available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d03345.pdf and the National Research Council report at www.nap.edu/books/0309087287/html/.

Comments Sought on Draft Interior Department Plan

The Department of the Interior has announced that it is accepting comments on its draft strategic plan. This document is required by the Government Performance and Results Act (better known by its acronym GPRA). For the geoscience community, one of the key issues is how the document portrays the role of science -- an indicator of how the department sees the role of the USGS. Although not one of the department's strategic goals, science is listed as a "crosscutting tool" along with partnerships. Last January, AGI provided testimony to Interior on the proposed plan. That statement is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/interior_strategy0102.html. Comments on the draft plan must be received by April 25th. The final plan will be released in the fall. The draft plan can be found at www.doi.gov/gpra/stratplan_2_14_2003.html along with instructions in how to submit comments.

Senators Receive AASG Pick & Gavel Award

On March 18th, the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) presented its fifth annual Pick and Gavel Award to Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ted Stevens (R-AK). Hill staff and federal agency leaders joined over half of the state geologists for the banquet ceremony at the Cosmos Club in Washington. The award recognizes "individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing or facilitating the role of geoscience in the public policy arena." Both Bingaman and Stevens were specifically recognized for their long-standing support of geologic mapping and other geoscience programs in citations delivered by their home state geologists. Past recipients of the award include Representatives Barbara Cubin (R-WY), Nick Rahall II (D-WV), Jim Gibbons (R-NV), and Ralph Regula (R-OH); Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT); General Richard Lawson (ret.); National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell; and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. More at www.kgs.ukans.edu/AASG/pick.html.

February Federal Register

The following list contains Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices that may be 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.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Notice of availability of Pre-Disaster Mitigation planning grants to states and tribal governments. Vol. 68, No. 41 (3 March 2003): p. 10018-10020.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Announcement of upcoming meeting of the Science Advisory Board on April 25th in Washington, DC. Vol. 68, No. 42 (4 March 2003): p. 10240-10241.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Notice of intent to evaluate the Coastal Zone Management Programs and National Estuarine Research Reserves. Vol. 68, No. 45 (7 March 2003): p. 11066-11067.

Department of Energy (DOE). Notice of availability of financial assistance from the National Energy Technology Laboratory entitled "Mining Industry of the Future: Exploration & Mining Technology". Vol. 68, No. 46 (10 March 2003): p. 11387-11388.

Minerals Management Service (MMS). Request for public comments on the possibility of developing a consensus on geothermal royalty valuation approaches -- deadline for comments April 16, 2003. Vol. 68, No. 51 (17 March 2003): p. 12643-12644.

NOAA. Request for public comment on the National Coral Reef Action Strategy -- deadline for comments May 6, 2003. Vol. 68, No. 54 (20 March 2003): p. 13688.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Solicitation for research projects under the National
Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Vol. 68, No. 56 (24 March 2003): p. 14258-14259.

MMS. Meeting announcement of the Outer Continental Shelf Scientific Committee of the Minerals Management Advisory Board on April 22nd in Anchorage, AK. Vol. 68, No. 58 (26 March 2003): p. 14696-14697.

New Material on Web Site

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:

  • Special Update: President's FY 2004 Budget Request: NASA, NOAA, Smithsonian & EPA (3-31-03)
  • Fiscal Year 2004 Appropriations Hearings (3-24-03)
  • Energy Policy Overview (3-21-03)
  • Energy Policy Hearing Summaries (3-14-03)
  • Mercury Policy (3-12-03)
  • Asbestos Policy (3-12-03)
  • Fossils and Public Lands (3-11-03)
  • National Earthquake Hazards Reductions Program (3-10-03)
  • Clean Air Issues: New Source Review (3-10-03)
  • NSF Report: Complex Environmental Systems: Synthesis for Earth, Life, and Society in the 21st Century (3-10-03)

Monthly review prepared by Margaret A. Baker, David Applegate, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Charna Meth.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, Association of American State Geologists, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, E&E Daily, Federal Register, Geotimes, Greenwire, House and Senate Budget Committees, House Science Committee, Library of Congress, National Academy of Science, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Washington Post.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted April 7, 2003