Printable Version

Monthly Review: March 2005


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.

Budget Resolutions Drafted, Debated
Budget Appropriations Hearings
Representative Frank Wolf Stands Up for Science Education
Clear Skies Tied Up; EPA Acts to Regulate Coal-Fired Utilities
New EPA Mercury Rule in a Ton of Trouble
Coal Policy Fires Up the Senate
Senate Hears Debate on Federal Renewable Energy Standards
House Takes a Look at Growing Energy Demand in China
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Becomes a Budget Item
Does the United States Have Enough Water? Report Released
Global Earth Observations
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Evolution Roundup
National Academy of Sciences Alert
Deep Sea Volcanoes Sunk
Professorial Dictators Warned
USGS Reports on Listening Session
Bush Announces New NASA Administrator
AASG Pick and Gavel Awards
Congressional Visit Day
EarthScope Student Volunteers
AGI Seeking Fall Interns
Key Federal Register Notices
New Updates to Website

 

Budget Resolutions Drafted, Debated

The budget resolutions that the House of Representatives and the Senate will finalize in the coming weeks are, at best, imperfect predictors of this fall's appropriations bills. As proposed broad-brush taxing and spending blueprints for the next fiscal year, the budget resolutions are the first indicators of congressional reaction to the Administration's Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget request, and they provide an early sense of the direction of future spending.

The House and Senate budget resolutions consist primarily of figures on different categories of spending. One of these budget categories, or functions, is for General Science, Space, and Technology. Most physical science research spending is found in this $24.6+ billion category. The House and Senate budget resolutions would increase spending in this function by 1.3%. This is an increase of $310-$320 million for all budgets in this category. NASA is seeking an increase of $386 million in FY06. The House Budget Committee states that within this function "the Budget Committee assumes full funding of the President's request for NASA."

Leading up to the writing of the budget resolutions were the "Views and Estimates" provided by authorizing committees. The House Committee on Science filed such a document earlier this month. The absence of the usual companion document was of note; House Democrats on the Science Committee did not write their own report. Ranking Democratic Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) explained, "Although this committee is historically bipartisan, this year was unusual in that Democrats found the statements of the Chair to be so on point that we wanted to join him to send a stronger message to the Administration, Budget Committee and Appropriators that the science and technology budget the President submitted is not the best we can do even under the current fiscal circumstances. We have to do better." This bipartisan spirit is a testimony to House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Gordon's leadership of this committee, and the work of the committee's staff on both sides of the aisle.

The 26-page publication states: "The Committee believes the proposed funding for basic research is insufficient. Funding short-term development at the expense of longer-term basic and applied research is not advisable, and neglects those portions of R&D where government support is most crucial. The Committee also believes that the budget must fully consider appropriate balances between defense and non-defense R&D spending and between biomedical and non-biomedical spending. At $71 and $29 billion, respectively, the R&D budgets of DOD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) account for more than 75 percent of the total R&D budget." Later in the document the committee characterized the FY06 request for the DOE Office of Science as "inadequate" doing little to bring physical sciences funding into parity with life sciences funding.

The committee "strongly supports" the budget request for NIST core laboratory programs and facilities. Regarding the National Science Foundation, the committee called the overall budget request "inadequate," saying it was "especially disturbed" by the proposed cuts in NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate. There was a range of opinion regarding the Administration's request for NASA, the document stating: "The Committee is divided over the NASA budget request as of now even though there is broad support for the basic thrust of the Space Exploration Vision outlined by the President on January 14, 2004. Key questions include the relative priority of NASA funding as compared to that of other science agencies; the adequacy of funding for science and aeronautics within NASA; and the future of the NASA workforce."

Budget Appropriations Hearings

Department of the Interior (DOI): Interior Secretary Gale Norton testified before Senate and House Appropriators on March 1st and 2nd. Norton outlined DOI's budget priorities, including increases for energy programs, oil and gas permitting, cooperative conservation programs, seismic monitoring, and Nation Park recreation. Members of Congress consistently objected to proposed reductions in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and funds for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT). They also discussed the proposed 53% cut to the U.S. Geological Survey's Minerals Resource Program, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, restoration of Abandoned Mine Land, and several regional issues.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): NOAA's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2006 was considered by the House on March 2, with testimony from Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and again on March 9th, with testimony from NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher. Members were most concerned with the NOAA's plans to increase tsunami preparedness, and the elimination of long-standing education programs.

National Science Foundation (NSF): "Without NSF supporting basic research, our edge in science will slip away and an innovation gap will grow." This statement by Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Research, sums up how House authorizers and appropriators responded to the proposed real-dollar cuts for NSF. In hearings on March 9th and 11th, House members expressed their concerns about the President's proposed budgetary cuts for science education programs within NSF, at times openly objecting with the opinions of agency officials who testified. Hot topics included the cost to NSF of transferring the maintenance of icebreaking vessels from the Coast Guard, and a proposed 12.4% cut to NSF's Education and Human Resources directorate

Department of Energy (DOE) Programs: Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman described DOE's overall budget priorities to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 3rd, and again to House appropriators on March 9th. On March 10th, 15th and 16th, other DOE officials testified before House appropriators on nuclear waste management and clean-up, the office of science, and nuclear energy, fossil energy, and energy efficiency programs.

Agency officials repeatedly defended the elimination of the oil and gas research program, explaining private sector companies are already stepping up research efforts due to high fossil fuel prices. Secretary Bodman and Raymond Orbach, Office of Science Director, also came under fire on several occasions for the 3.8% proposed reduction for the science program. Nuclear waste clean-up projects in a number of states were also hot topics in several of these hearings. But during the March 16th hearing, the spotlight was on delays in the permitting process for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Despite several challenges facing the site, Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), Chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, declared that finding a safe repository for spent fuel is "the single most important issue on the subcommittee's agenda."

More detailed summaries of each appropriation hearing are available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/appropsfy2006_hearings.html

Representative Frank Wolf Stands up for Science Education

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), the new Chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees several U.S. federal science agencies, recently announced plans to introduce a bill aimed at attracting more university students to the physical sciences, math and engineering. Borrowing from an idea developed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Wolf's bill would forgive interest on college loans for students who major in science, or a related field, and pursue at least 3 years of post-graduate work in the field. "Regardless of what anybody says, we're falling behind," Wolf said of U.S. science and engineering enrollment trends.

Recent jurisdictional shuffling and downsizing of the appropriations subcommittees in both Houses of Congress has placed the budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Administration of Space and Aeronautics (NASA) within the same science subcommittees in both houses. In addition to drafting his own legislation, Wolf has said he hopes to use this consolidation to "do something very dramatic" in his subcommittee, including plans to bring NOAA, NSF, and NASA together with the Department of Education in a coordinated effort to shift more resources into science and math education.

Clear Skies Tied Up; EPA Acts to Regulate Coal-Fired Utilities

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee defeated the controversial Clear Skies Bill (S. 131) in a 9-9 vote during the bill's mark-up on March 9, 2005. After three weeks of negotiations, which failed to resolve the deadlock, Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) decided to hold the mark-up in order to move forward with other priorities. Inhofe has not announced plans to reconsider the legislation, but Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) said Clear Skies will likely appear as an amendment to the energy bill during floor debates this summer, according to Greenwire. Chairman of the House Energy and Resources Committee Joe Barton (R-TX) has not announced any specific plans regarding similar legislation, but the committee does plan to hold a hearing on the Clear Skies initiative on April 21st.

On March 10, 2005, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson signed the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which is expected to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from coal-fired power plants by roughly 70% by 2015. Utilities operating in 28 Eastern States and the District of Columbia are to engage in a cap-and-trade system in order to meet these industry-wide limits.

For more, go to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/cleanair.html.

New EPA Mercury Rule In a Ton of Trouble

On March 15, 2005, the EPA mandated a cap-and-trade program to control mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants in two phases in their Clean Air Mercury Rule. The first phase of caps would reduce emissions from 48 to 38 tons per year by 2010, reached as a collateral benefit of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), a similar program for SO2 and NOx issued five days earlier. The second phase of limits would reduce national emissions to 15 tons per year by 2018, a 70% reduction. EPA also reversed the Clinton Administration finding of December 2000 that it was appropriate to regulate coal- and oil-fired power plants for mercury emissions under section 112 of the Clean Air Act, the section that regulates hazardous air pollutants. The section 112 finding would have led to maximum achievable control technology (MACT) requirements for power plants.

The EPA rule has been plagued by two recent accountability studies by the EPA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office, which report biased rulemaking procedures and incomplete cost-benefit and health risk analyses. Environment & Energy Daily reported that on March 18th, 11 moderate House republicans expressed their disappointment with the rule in a letter to EPA's Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson. "We believe that current technologies can achieve far greater reductions in mercury than those mandated in this final rule," they said. A coalition of 31 Senators, led by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), and James Jeffords (I-VT), are also devising a plan to block the rule, either through an appropriations rider, the Congressional Review Act, or Johnson's confirmation process, according to Greenwire. Johnson's first confirmation hearing is scheduled for April 6th.

After the EPA ruling, the Washington Post and Greenwire reported that the EPA omitted findings from another study, a peer-reviewed health benefit analysis from Harvard University. The study estimated that more aggressive nation-wide mercury caps of 26 tons and 15 tons could save an additional $48 and $86 million, respectively, in costs related to cardiovascular health problems. The EPA analysis was based on neurological health problems and did not consider the potential cardiovascular health benefits in their cost-benefit analysis because of the uncertainties of the role of mercury in heart problems. In addition, the EPA analysis only considered the consumption of freshwater fish, while the Harvard study also estimated the health benefits from reducing mercury in salt water fish, a source that is more commonly consumed by humans. EPA did not consider salt water fish because it is more difficult to determine how much of the U.S. power plant mercury emissions may be the source for bioaccumulation of methyl mercury in salt water fish. Senators who oppose the rule used the Harvard study to further buttress their argument that the EPA failed to consider all relevant information. EPA officials maintain that, although they were aware of the report, it was submitted late, and thus could not be included in the rule making because of quality control laws.

Lawmakers and environmental groups who support stricter regulations have pledged to take legal action to block the mercury rule from taking effect. Greenwire reports that the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and a coalition of state officials are poised to file law suits on the grounds that the rule violates the earlier EPA finding, which classified mercury as a "hazardous air pollutant."

Electric Utility Week quoted Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who said, "We are consulting with other states to consider possible legal action to overturn this unconscionable and ill-conceived rule. While perhaps tolerable for other contaminants, a cap-and-trade system cannot be acceptable for mercury pollution, because the health hazards at hot spots are so huge." Lawsuits can be brought on the Clean Air Mercury Rule after it is published in the Federal Register. Also according to Electric Utility Week, one source in Congress even suggested that the administration may have put out such an "arbitrary and capricious" rule in hopes that a lawsuit would delay compliance deadlines for several years.

On March 28, EPA published the first part of its mercury rule, removing mercury from the list of toxic pollutants covered by stricter MACT emission caps required under the Clean Air Act and that same day, 9 states, including New Jersey, New Hampshire, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Vermont, sued. Other states and environmental groups plan to file their own lawsuits when other parts of the mercury rule are published in the Federal Register.

Meanwhile, several states are considering their own mercury regulations that may be stricter than the EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule, particularly to handle mercury hot spots that pose the greatest health risks. The New Hampshire Senate voted on March 24th to restrict mercury emissions by over 50% by 2009 and 80% by 2013 at the Bow and Portsmouth power plants, two of the states worst mercury "hot spots." The bill now waits for a House vote. An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 21st stated "Pennsylvania should follow New Jersey's lead and pass its own mercury regulation, requiring more stringent cleanup than the federal standard announced last week." An editorial in the Eugene Register-Guard on March 21st also noted that "EPA officials blithely insist hot spots won't be a problem, though they have no strategy to prevent them. They note that states have the right to opt out of the rule and establish their own mercury limits - scant solace to areas being polluted by mercury toxins from power plants in neighboring states."

The electric utility industry was pleased to see mercury removed from the EPA list of toxic pollutants and indicated that the original December 2000 finding had not been appropriate. The industry still faces many uncertainties because of possible lawsuits against the ruling, potential efforts in Congress to alter the ruling and the likelihood of stiffer and variable state regulations regarding mercury. Compliance with the Clean Air Mercury Rule is estimated to cost $160 million per year in 2010, $100 million a year in 2015 and $750 million a year in 2020. An additional complication is that technology to monitor mercury emissions from power plants has not been fully developed, according to the Electric Power Research Institute and the techniques suggested in EPA's mercury rule, which work well for monitoring nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, are not accurate or reliable enough to measure mercury emissions.

More on mercury policy is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/mercury.html

Coal Policy Fires Up the Senate

On March 10, 2005, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee convened representatives from 25 groups to consider the best proposals for U.S. coal production to be included in this year's energy bill. Department of Energy officials said they expect the U.S. will face a 25% increase in coal consumption by 2025, adding an additional 87 GW of added domestic coal capacity as well as increased imports.

Lawmakers and panelists alike recognized that further investments in coal must address challenges posed by climate change and other environmental impacts of coal use. "It's pretty obvious that we've got to do something about the technology and the cleanup," said Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM). But Domenici warned environmentalists that they would not get very far on climate change by advocating wide-spread zero-emissions plants. "We need something in the middle," he said. Among proposals that received the most attention, John Holdren, co-chair of the National Commission on Energy Policy (NDEP), recommended that the government establish a market signal for carbon dioxide control, as in a phased cap-and-trade program, and commit $7 billion in total investments over the next decade to help commercialize coal gasification (IGCC) technologies and carbon sequestration. Domenici is expected to introduce a draft of the Senate energy bill later this spring.

A full summary is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/energy_conference.html

 

Senate Hears Debate on Federal Renewable Energy Standards

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered arguments for and against the use of a federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) as a means of promoting energy diversity on March 8, 2005. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the Committee's ranking member, proposes that 10% of the national power supply should be derived from renewable sources by 2020. Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), who will introduce the Senate version of the energy bill this spring, opposes a federal renewable energy standard but said he wished to recognize the wide support Bingaman's proposal received in the Senate last year.

Opponents of a federal RPS are concerned that a "one-size-fits-all" renewable energy mandate would burden some states with unfair costs and penalties, due to the unequal distribution of renewable resources. But proponents maintain that if well-crafted, a federal RPS could significantly relieve demand on fossil fuels, help lower natural gas prices, and achieve better energy diversity and efficiency goals than relying on uncertain federal tax credits.

A full summary is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/energy_hearings.html

 

House Takes a Look at Growing Energy Demand in China

International energy experts warned the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee on March 16th that Chinese energy demand is rising sharply and is one of the factors contributing to recently high crude oil prices. Since 2000, energy use in China has unexpectedly skyrocketed, outpacing the country's economic growth. As a result, Chinese state-run oil companies are making a major push to lock down new supplies around the globe, which could pose future problems for U.S. imports. "The United States must take a serious look at its energy and mineral supply strategy for the long-term," said Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV), Chairman of the subcommittee.

Subcommittee members called for further development of natural gas supplies in the United States as the best response to rising oil prices and increased demand from Asia. Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) said natural gas development is where the U.S. policymakers should be focusing their efforts, since it is the one fuel that could easily bridge to the hydrogen economy.

A full summary is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/energy_hearings.html

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Becomes a Budget Item

On March 16, 2005 the Senate voted 51-49 against an amendment proposed by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would have removed a provision to include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) revenues in the $2.56 trillion fiscal year 2006 Senate budget resolution. With that close vote, the issue of drilling in ANWR becomes part of the budgetary process and cannot be held up by a filibuster. The House passed a similar provision in their budget resolution earlier this month. If the two resolutions are reconciled in the conference committee and signed by the President, the bill would instruct the House Resources Committee and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to write necessary legislation to realize $2.5 billion in revenues from ANWR lease sales over the next five years. While the vote was a decisive victory for those who support drilling in the refuge and a heavy blow to environmentalists, Congress must still overcome some hurdles before the provision would take effect. Most notably, Congress has failed in recent years to achieve a joint budget resolution, and disagreements over several other funding issues within next year's tight budget, such as cuts to Medicaid, promise to challenge the process once again.

Does the United States Have Enough Water? Report Released

The Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality, reporting to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, National Science and Technology Council, has released its first report, Science and Technology to Support Fresh Water Availability in the United States.

Regarding this report, John H. Marburger III, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has said: "The health of the American people and the economic growth of the Nation depend on continuing availability of clean fresh water. The recent drought in the western U.S. and the increasing number of conflicts over the allocation of limited water supplies amplify the need for a better understanding of water availability. This report provides a clear statement of need for coordinated science and technology efforts to understand the supply, human demand, and environmental requirements for fresh water in the United States."

The report addresses the key question, "Does the United States have enough water?" The brief answer is "We do not know". According to the U.S. General Accounting Office (2003), National water availability and use has not been comprehensively assessed in 25 years.
The report takes a brief but careful look at what is known about our nation's fresh water supply, what we don't know about it, and the ramifications of our current state of knowledge. It also describes high-priority science and technology efforts needed to provide adequate information for decision makers and water managers.

At the request of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, as a follow-up to this report, the Subcommittee is now developing a strategic plan for Federal science and technology research and development to support freshwater availability and quality. As this plan takes shape there will be an opportunity for public review and input. If you would like your name added to the review list, please email gpatter@usgs.gov with the subject, "add to swaq review list".
For further information or to request a printed copy of the report, please contact Glenn Patterson (gpatter@usgs.gov) or call 703-648-6876.

The Global Earth Observations System of Systems

At the third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels on February 16, 2005, 60 nations agreed to expand and integrate their own Earth observing capabilities into a single, global data-sharing network and all-hazards warning system. This Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) was also endorsed by 40 international organizations at the summit.

On March 9, 2005, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held an oversight hearing on plans to implement the U.S. component of GEOSS. The hearing focused on major challenges facing the international effort and the benefits of GEOSS to U.S. public health, energy use, and environmental protection. "This is the first time we've had political interest in such an issue," said NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, who is a key player in the team that drafted the 10-year plan. Admiral Lautenbacher reported that international support has grown substantially since the Tsunami disaster last December and the technological goals of GEOSS will be easily attainable with sustained funding. However, certain geo-political obstacles remain unresolved, including national security concerns surrounding data access, and reconciling conflicting business models for the cost of information.

In order for GEOSS to work, the United States must also prove to itself and the world that it can maintain the long-term political and financial commitment necessary to standardize and network its own data, let alone participate in the international effort. In the hearing, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) called on agency officials to define clearer goals and specific budget directives for Congress. So far, the EPA is the only agency with a line-item in their budget to support its role in GEOSS. A charter being developed by an Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations (IWGEO), which involves 16 federal agencies, is expected to help expedite the institutionalization of GEOSS.

For more information, visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/earthobservation.html and the EPA website.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

A Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was called for by United Nations in 2000. Initiated in 2001 to inform global policy initiatives, the assessment was released on March 30, 2005. The 2500 page assessment is considered to be the most comprehensive survey of ecosystem vitality and involved 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over four years. The assessment defines ecosystems in terms of their services to humanity, for example timber for building, clean air for breathing, fish for food and fibers for clothing.

The assessment considers the state of these services since World War II. It finds that during the past 60 years, more land has been converted to agriculture than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined, and more than half of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have been used since 1985. Water withdrawals from rivers and lakes for irrigation, household, and industrial use doubled in the past 40 years. Four ecosystem services have been enhanced, including increased crop, livestock and aquaculture production and increased carbon sequestration, primarily through new forests planted in the northern hemisphere. Two services, fisheries and fresh water, have been depleted. Overall about 60% of the world's ecosystem services have been degraded and the growing needs of a growing population for these services has caused substantial and predominantly irreversible loss in diversity, with about 10-30% of mammalian, avian and amphibian species threatened by extinction. Species extinction is now 100-1,000 times above the normal background rate.

Future scenario models suggest that by changing consumption patterns, better education, new technologies, higher prices for exploiting ecosystems and global cooperation, humanity can reverse or limit further damage while moving toward a more sustainable system of services. The assessment was funded by the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the World Bank and others.

The complete assessment, summaries and additional coverage are available at: www.millenniumassessment.org

Evolution Roundup

National Academy of Science Alert

On March 4, 2005 Dr. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, sent a letter to NAS members regarding the mounting threats to science education in public schools. In short, the letter alerts NAS members to the organization's growing effort to combat threats to the teaching of evolution in public schools. The letter further requests that Academy members be ready to lend their assistance to efforts to defend science education in their state. Dr. Alberts further states in the letter, in no uncertain terms, that a 7 February 2005 Op-Ed in the New York Times that was authored by intelligent design advocate, Dr. Michael Behe, misrepresents Dr. Alberts' statements on evolution. In a response to the Behe Op-Ed, Dr. Alberts states "while my words are reflected correctly in Behe's column, he completely misrepresents the intent of my statement."

Deep Sea Volcanoes Sunk

The IMAX movies, "Cosmic Voyage," about the universe; "Galapagos," about the islands where Darwin's observations led him to develop the theory of evolution and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," about creatures that thrive near the vents on the ocean floor have been rejected by some theaters in museums and elsewhere because they mention evolution. The New York Times reported that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History showed "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" to a sample audience and decided not to book the movie because some viewers objected to the mention of evolution.

The Associated Press reported that cities in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were refusing to show "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because it makes a connection between human DNA and microbes living on the sea floor. Lisa Buzzelli, director of the IMAX theater in Charleston declined to show the film because she said "If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it. Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

Professorial Dictators Warned

In the Florida House of Representatives, the Committee on Choice and Innovation voted along party lines (8 Republicans approved while 2 Democrats strenuously disapproved) to advance the Student and Faculty Academic Freedom in Postsecondary Education bill (HB-837) out of their committee (see http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/). The bill grants a list of rights to students and faculty and these rights would have to be prominently posted in all postsecondary institutes of learning. Two of the rights granted to students include:

(1) The right to be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
(2) The right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.

The bill, which must be approved by two more committees before it goes to the full House for a vote, ensures that university students cannot be punished for stating beliefs that disagree with their professors. It may allow students to sue a professor and the university if students think that they are being singled out for ridicule because of their beliefs. While supporting the passage of the bill, Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) said that a university education should be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom," as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views." Later, Rep. Baxley cited the following example of a case where a student might sue, "Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it there's the door.'"

Rep. Dan Gelber, (D-Miami Beach), countered that many lawsuits could be filed by students with a wide-ranging variety of beliefs, such as students who do not believe that the Holocaust occurred or that men landed on the Moon. "This is a horrible step," he said. "Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in court rooms. Professors might have to pay court costs - even if they win - from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation."

USGS Reports on Listening Session

Earlier this month the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released its report of the annual customer listening session. The purpose of the listening session (held on November 4, 2004) was to build on the information USGS has gained from its customers over the past four years about their core capabilities. Additionally, the USGS sought to begin a dialogue about the unique roles and responsibilities of the USGS to reduce the risks of natural hazards.

Since the listening session, the USGS has established design and outreach teams to shape the science objectives, partnership opportunities, and to develop strategies for communicating the natural hazards effort. These teams are seeking input from technical experts, partners and stakeholders throughout this process. The USGS is still seeking comments or thoughts about the hazards initiative. Those can be sent via email to conversation@usgs.gov.

Bush Announces New NASA Administrator

On March 11, 2005, President Bush announced the nomination of Michael Griffin as NASA's 11th Administrator. The nomination comes nearly three months after former Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced his resignation and less than three weeks after O'Keefe's official departure from the agency. Griffin currently serves as Head of the Space Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). He has also spent time at Orbital Sciences Corporation, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Computer Sciences Program. Griffin was chief of NASA's exploration office from 1991 to 1993 and is expected to be an advocate of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (Moon-Mars) program.

Griffin holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and five Master's degrees in Aerospace Science, Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics, Civil Engineering, and Business Administration. He began his academic career with an undergraduate degree in Physics from Johns Hopkins University.
Congress has reacted positively to Griffin's nomination. The House of Representatives Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said, "We are extremely pleased that the President has nominated Mike Griffin to be NASA Administrator. He has broad expertise, knows NASA inside and out, and is an imaginative and creative thinker and leader. He is also known for his candor and directness. We look very forward to working with Dr. Griffin at this critical time for NASA."

Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Space in the House Science Committee commented that "Dr. Griffin has an impressive background in space-related fields, and I am encouraged by his nomination to be the next NASA Administrator. I look forward to working with him on the full range of issues facing NASA." Griffin now awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearings.

AASG Pick and Gavel Awards

On March 22nd, the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) presented its seventh annual Pick and Gavel Award to Marcus Milling, Executive Director of the American Geological Institute (AGI), "in recognition of his tireless efforts to unite the geoscience community on issues of information, education, and public policy." Hill Staff and federal agency leaders joined 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." 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), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Ted Stevens (R-AK); General Richard Lawson (ret.); National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell; and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. More information about the award is available at www.kgs.ukans.edu/AASG/pick.html.

Congressional Visit Day

The 10th annual Congressional Visit Day is scheduled for May 10-11, 2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. CVD is an important opportunity to make science issues and science funding a priority for the 109th congress. More information about CVD is available at www.aas.org/cvd. The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific research.

EarthScope Student Volunteers

EarthScope and Stanford University seek student volunteers to assist a science team in rock sampling and operations at the SAFOD drill site on the San Andreas Fault in central California. UNAVCO also offers student field assistant positions this summer at EarthScope's Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) in the western U.S. and Alaska. Field Assistants will work with regional staff in GPS and strain meter activities. Download the summer opportunities flyer, which includes contact and application information.

AGI Seeking Fall Interns

AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a fourteen-week geoscience and public policy internship in Fall 2005. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their writing and Web publishing skills. Stipends for the semester internships are funded by a generous contribution from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Applications must be postmarked by April 15, 2005. For more information, please visit www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/internse.html.

Key Federal Register Notices

Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community 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.

DOE: The Department of Energy released the representative average unit costs of five residential energy sources to become effective April 11, 2005: Electricity: $.09/kWh; Natural Gas: $1.092/therm; Heating Oil: $1.76/gallon; Propane: $1.55/gallon; Kerosene: $2.20/gallon. [Federal Register: March 11, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 47)]

DOE/DOI: The Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior plan to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) concerning the transition of Rocky Flats from a defense nuclear facility into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The MOU describes how the Departments will cooperate in transferring administrative jurisdiction for certain lands within the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (Rocky Flats) from DOE to DOI. Full text of the Minerals Management Services press release is available at: http://www.mms.gov/ooc/press/2005/press0310.htm
[Federal Register: March 22, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 54)]

DOE: The Department of Energy announced an "interim final rule and opportunity for public comment" on revisions made to the Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The changes come after President Bush directed the Secretary of Energy to improve the program in February, 2002, and they are intended to "enhance the measurement accuracy, reliability and verifiability of information." Under new rules, larger emitters that want to register reductions must provide "entity-wide emissions data." DOE will also begin to provide simple procedures for small emitters like agricultural businesses to submit reports, and multinational participants will be able to register reductions achieved internationally. [Federal Register: March 24, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 56)]

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Education invites proposals to be submitted for the Environmental Education Training Program, which provides educators with training and long-term support to enable them to effectively teach environmental issues. The program grants one award of $1.7 million, as a one year cooperative agreement, to a U.S. institution of higher education, a non-profit, or consortium of such institutions, with up to four years of subsequent funding. Visit http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/educate.html for more information or to download an application; or contact Kathleen MacKinnon, U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Education, at 202-564-0454 or mackinnon.kathleen@epa.gov. Applications must be postmarked no later than April 30, 2005. [Federal Register: March 18, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 52)]

EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency posted a final rule overturning a December 2000 Regulatory finding that classified mercury as a Hazardous Air Pollutant. Based on this revision, the EPA removed coal- and oil-fired power plants from Section 112 (c) of the Clean Air Act, which lists utilities for which regulation of hazardous air pollutants is "appropriate and necessary." A summary of the final rule is available at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/pdf/05-6037.pdf [Federal Register: March 29, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 59)]

NSF: The EarthScope Science and Education Advisory Committee Meeting will be held Thursday March 31 and Friday, April 1 at the Hyatt Hotel in Santa Ana Pueblo, NM. The purpose of meeting is to carry out EarthScope proposal and management review, and to provide advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning EarthScope construction, operation, science and education support. Minutes may be obtained from Dr. Kaye Shedlock, EarthScope Program Officer; telephone: (703) 292-8559. [Federal Register: March 4, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 42)]

OST: The National Science and Technology Council's Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations will hold a two-day Public Engagement Workshop on Monday, May 9, 8:30-5:30 and Tuesday, May 10, 8:30-4:30. The workshop will focus on the nine societal benefit areas and the six near term opportunities identified in the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System. This plan was developed to address the effective use of Earth observation systems to enable a healthy public, economy and planet. All sessions of the workshop will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, DC. For further information contact Carla Sullivan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: carla.sullivan@noaa.gov. [Federal Register: March 30, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 60)]

USGS: The U.S. Geological Survey's Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee (SESAC) will hold its tenth open meeting at the Menlo Park, CA campus April 13-14. The Committee will review the overall direction of the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Hazards Program in the current and next fiscal years with particular focus on the Program's activities in earthquake physics and earthquake effects research. For further information, contact Dr. David Applegate, Reston, Virginia 20192, (703) 648-6714. [Federal Register: April 1, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 62)]

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:

Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program, Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs and Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Semester Intern.

Sources: American Institute of Physics, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy of Sciences, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, Washington Post, New York Times, Electric Utility Week, Associated Press, Environment & Energy Daily, Millennium Assessment Website, Alligator Online and Florida House of Representatives Website.

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

Posted April 5, 2005.