Monthly Review: March 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. Geoscientists: Join Us for Congressional Visits
2. Update on Stimulus Funding for Science
3. Congress Passes Budget Plans: Modifies President’s Priorities
4. Update on Key Cabinet and Executive Branch Positions

5. Clough Named as Secretary of the Smithsonian
6. Public Lands Omnibus Signed by Obama
7. House Unveils Climate Change Bill
8. Water and Mining Legislation Make Their Way through Committees
9. House and Senate Introduce Wildfire Bill
10. Legislation to Promote Women in Science
11. Bill Is Pulled After EPA Announces Coal Ash Regulation
12. EPA Fast-Tracks GHG Decision and Proposes Mandatory Reporting
13. Court Orders EPA to Reconsider Interstate Emissions
14. Supreme Court Deems Forest Service Safe from Lawsuits
15. USGS Addresses Unknowns about Carbon Storage
16. USGS Congressional Briefing on Well Water Quality
17. ACS Briefing on Understanding the U.S. Energy Profile
18. Setback for Science Education in Texas
19. Five Guys Showcase Geology at Congressional Science Fair
20. AGI Joins the Science and Human Rights Coalition
21. Key Reports
22. Key Federal Register Notices
23. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Geoscientists: Join Us for Congressional Visits

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.

2. Update on Stimulus Funding for Science

Science received significant one-time appropriations in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, Public Law 111-5). Science agencies are now starting to release their reports and plans for the stimulus spending. All agencies that receive one-time funds are required to submit a plan with spending specifics to Congress within 60 days of enactment. Many agencies are trying to submit their plans as soon as possible. So far the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation have provided some specific details in press releases, notices and other materials that are posted on agency web sites. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is filing weekly reports on stimulus activities at http://www.epa.gov/recovery/plans.html

DOE received significant funding for research and development, especially work focused on alternative energy and energy efficiency. Office of Science received $1.6 billion, Office of Fossil Energy received $3.4 billion, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy received $16.8 billion and the new independent agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $400 million.

On March 23, 2009, the DOE’s Inspector General, Gregory Friedman, filed a report on steps to improve DOE’s transparency, oversight and accountability in spending of the stimulus and future appropriations. The report calls the stimulus a “fundamental transformation” of DOE’s mission. On the same day, DOE provided a detailed plan on $1.2 billion of Office of Science funding. Much will go to infrastructure and research at the national laboratories that directly or indirectly support the work of many geoscientists. Two specific programs would also help to directly support universities and one of these programs is focused on energy.

Below are the details of these programs taken directly from the DOE press release:
“$277 million for Energy Frontier Research Centers, to be awarded on a competitive basis to universities and DOE National Laboratories across the country. These centers will accelerate the transformational basic science needed to develop plentiful and cost-effective alternative energy sources and will pursue advanced fundamental research in fields ranging from solar energy to nuclear energy systems, biofuels, geological sequestration of carbon dioxide, clean and efficient combustion, solid state lighting, superconductivity, hydrogen research, electrical energy storage, catalysis for energy, and materials under extreme conditions.

$90 million for other core research, providing support for graduate students, postdocs, and Ph.D. scientists across the nation. This will create jobs and stimulate the economy both directly – in creating and saving research jobs – as well as through scientific advancements that ultimately can be applied in the marketplace.”

For a press release, other details and useful links to statistics regarding the stimulus funds for the Office of Science please visit: http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7083.htm

The National Science Foundation in Notice 131, stated the funds will be distributed in the following manner: “…NSF is planning to use the majority of the $2 billion available in Research and Related Activities for proposals that are already in house and will be reviewed and/or awarded prior to September 30, 2009.

The Foundation also expects to expeditiously award funds as specified in the Recovery Act for: the Math and Science Partnership program (funded at $25 million); the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program (funded at $60 million); the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account (funded at $400 million); the Academic Research Infrastructure (ARI) program (funded at $200 million); and the Science Masters program, (funded at $15 million). Solicitations for these latter two programs will be posted this spring.

NSF will post a solicitation this spring for the Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) in order to make a sufficient number of awards to utilize the $300 million provided in the legislation. The Foundation currently anticipates that no other solicitations will be posted that are solely in response to the Recovery Act.”

For more information about NSF plans for the stimulus funding please see: http://nsf.gov/recovery/

The National Conference of State Legislatures has created a useful web site on the economic stimulus for 2009. The site provides a breakdown of funding by topic for state legislators as well as links to the full text of the legislation, the joint statements of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office summary of the budgetary impacts and the Congressional Research Services summary.

3. Congress Passes Budget Plans: Modifies President’s Priorities

On April 2, 2009, the House passed a concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 85) on the budget for fiscal year 2010 in the early evening and the Senate passed their resolution (S. Con. Res. 13) in the late evening after 13 hours of debate. The non-binding resolutions set budget priorities and outline spending levels for the federal government.  The resolutions were passed mainly along party lines and some language related to health care and climate change legislation remains contentious. After a two-week recess, Congress will reconvene on April 20th and the two chambers will have a conference committee work out the differences between the two resolutions.

The nearly $3.6 trillion budget includes a deficit of $1.2 trillion for fiscal year (FY) 2010. The plan is for the deficit to fall to $598 billion or $508 billion in the House and Senate respectively by 2014. The resolutions are aligned with President Obama’s budget request with some small modifications related to reducing the deficit more quickly. The House calls for $533 billion for discretionary spending, while the Senate calls for only $525 billion and the President requested $540 billion. The House and Senate did not include another $250 billion to bailout the financial industry as requested by President Obama. The plan would allow tax cuts for individuals and couples to expire in 2011 while limiting the tax burden on estates worth as much as $10 million.

The House plan offered specific support for investments in research and education to promote American innovation and economic competitiveness and the importance of addressing regional environmental issues that affect the Great Lakes.

The Senate and House resolutions increase appropriations for energy by about $1 billion or 18.4 percent above FY 2009 levels. The increases would focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and technological development. The General Science, Space and Technology function would see enough appropriations to continue the doubling of physical science research at the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the research portion of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. Such doubling is authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007.

In addition the resolutions can accommodate significant increases for the Environmental Protection Agency to carry-out clean-up of superfund, brownfield and water projects.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an independent agency, would receive $18.7 billion in FY 2010 and right now the Senate includes an extra $2.5 billion compared to the President’s request for FY 2011 for space shuttle operations. The Senate Budget Committee is concerned about a gap in American manned space flight and is intent on keeping the shuttle operating while accelerating development of a new vehicle. As the resolution is non-binding, the Senate Appropriations Committee does not have to consider this proposal.

The Department of the Interior and the Forest Service would receive high enough funding levels to support appropriations to carry out the Public Lands Omnibus Act of 2009. The law authorizes significant funding for ocean research and geologic mapping among other scientific investments. The Senate resolution also specifically calls out investments in the Florida Everglades and the Great Lakes.

The budget levels for science and education are similar to the House levels, so no major disagreements over research appropriations are expected. The Senate resolution calls for possible deficit-neutral reserve funds for “clean energy”, climate change, protecting the environment and for education.

The Senate resolution contains a requirement that 60 votes are needed to pass any climate change legislation that would cause significant job loss and also that any climate change legislation include protections for consumers and strengthening of manufacturing competitiveness. The measure contains no language that would allow senators to fast-track cap and trade legislation.

Offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on the outer continental shelf (OCS) was also debated on the Senate floor. An amendment that includes OCS oil and gas revenue in the budget’s deficit neutral-reserve fund was approved and an amendment to expand OCS revenue sharing with coastal states was not approved. OCS revenue is the third largest source of federal revenue after income taxes and customs duties. Any new OCS revenue sharing must be offset by either new taxes or cuts to entitlement programs because the expiration of the OCS moratorium last year moved OCS revenue to a new budget scoring situation. Thus sharing new OCS revenues only with coastal states could mean new taxes or cuts in programs for all states.

President Obama plans to announce details of his FY 2010 budget request during the week of April 27th, about one week after Congress comes back from its recess.

4. Update on Key Cabinet and Executive Branch Positions

In a flurry of activity this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director, and the Secretary of Commerce were all confirmed. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior was approved in committee, but still awaits Senate confirmation. President Obama announced additional nominations for leadership at the Department of Energy.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Dr. John Holdren have been waiting since their relatively non-controversial hearings on February 12. After various holds were placed on the confirmations for reasons unrelated to their qualifications, they were confirmed on March 19 as the new NOAA Administrator and OSTP Director respectively.

The third nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Washington Governor Gary Locke, was quickly ushered through the confirmation hearings and successfully voted the new head of the Department of Commerce (DOC) on March 24. Locke will take over a department with vast jurisdictional areas. Most of the DOC budget goes towards NOAA, but the DOC also monitors everything from business development to the census. Locke pledged to make clean energy technology, climate change, and the environment priorities within his primary goal of “creating jobs for the future.” At the confirmation hearing his financial statements were happily deemed “boring,” and his nomination was sent to the full Senate where he was confirmed by a voice vote. Locke has been touted as an environmentalist with a bipartisan reputation.

The Deputy Secretary of the Interior nominee, David Hayes, was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee on March 12. At the confirmation hearing, he pledged that harnessing renewable energy potential on public lands, better understanding climate change impacts on public lands, and determining how those lands can play a role in combating climate change will be the highest priorities at Department of the Interior (DOI). A full hearing write-up is available on our federal agencies page.

Despite a majority of the committee approving Hayes, Senator Bob Bennet (R-UT) is disappointed with some of Hayes’ responses and has stated that he will hold up the nomination on the floor. Bennet felt that Hayes gave him contradictory information regarding the sale of Utah oil and gas leases. Until he gets a better response from DOI, he will oppose the nomination. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who voted for Hayes in committee, says she might side with Bennet on the floor. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ) have also expressed concerns with the nomination, but are not predicted to block the nomination on the floor. Hayes previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 1999-2001.

There was also movement on filling key leadership positions at the Department of Energy (DOE). President Obama nominated BP chief scientist Steven Koonin to be undersecretary for Science and Brookings Institution policy analyst David Sandalow to be assistant secretary for Policy and International Affairs. The president also announced that Steve Isakowitz will remain as DOE’s chief financial officer.

Koonin was professor of theoretical physics and provost of the California Institute of Technology over a 30-year period before moving to BP to focus on alternative and renewable energy. He worked with Steven Chu, when Chu ran the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to initiate the Energy Biosciences Institute at the lab, a 10-year, $500 million research partnership with BP, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.

Sandalow served as assistant secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science under President Clinton and as senior director for Environmental Affairs on the National Security Council. He also served as an executive with the World Wildlife Fund and as chairman of the Energy and Climate Working Group of the Clinton Global Initiative after leaving government. Sandalow authored "Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction" in 2007 and supports alternative and renewable energy.

5. Clough Named as Secretary of the Smithsonian

Former Georgia Institute of Technology president, G. Wayne Clough, is the new Secretary of the Smithsonian.  Clough was the president of Georgia Tech for the past 15 years, and in that time he has improved enrollment and increased research expenditures, elevating the institution to one of the top ranked public research universities in the U.S. Currently, Clough also serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Science Foundation's governing National Science Board. He is also active with the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and the National Academies hurricane protection efforts in New Orleans. Clough earned his bachelor's and master's civil engineering degrees from Georgia Tech and a doctorate in civil engineering from University of California, Berkeley. His extensive work on and knowledge of public policy, higher education, diversity, economic development and technology has more than prepared him to take on his new post as of January 26, 2009. 

6. Public Lands Omnibus Signed by Obama

After failing in the Senate last year and the House earlier this month, the Public Lands Omnibus (introduced to the 111th Congress as S. 22, but passed as H.R. 146) was signed into law by President Obama on March 30 (Public Law 111-11). The omnibus contains over 160 bills authorizing many conservation measures. Beyond expanding national parks and protecting 2 million acres of federal lands, the bill contains many programs to address ocean research, water and climate change, fossils on public lands, and geologic mapping. The passage marks “one of the most significant protections for our treasured landscapes in a generation,” according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Bills such as the Federal Oceanic Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2009, the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, and the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 passed as part of the package. FOARAM authorizes $150 million over the next five years for federal agencies to monitor the effects of ocean acidification. The Interagency Committee on Ocean and Coastal Mapping will establish a plan for mapping the Great Lakes and U.S. coastal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zones, and the continental shelf in order to advance marine science. The National Ocean Research Leadership Council will create an observing system to protect key coastal areas. Programs at the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will coordinate to address the potential water shortages, conflicts, and hazards due to climate change.

The National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act, included in the omnibus package, provides funding to the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program to continue work on a national geologic map database and increases the allocation for state and educational components through fiscal year 2018. Also included is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, which prevents taking fossils from public land without a permit with an amendment allowing casual, or unknowing, collecting of common fossils.

To help the omnibus through the House after failing by two votes in early March, the Senate employed a procedural strategy allowing a previously passed bill, the Revolutionary War Battlefields Protection Act (H.R. 146), to be a vehicle for the Public Lands Omnibus. Since H.R. 146 had already passed in the House, the ensuing vote would just require a simple majority to approve the single, albeit all encompassing, amendment. There was hesitation in the House when some members tried to add an additional amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks, but the bill passed without amendments in a 285-140 vote on March 25.

7. House Unveils Climate Change Bill

On March 31, 2009, Henry Waxman (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA) and other senior Democrats unveiled a 648-page draft of climate change legislation. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 or the Waxman-Markey draft has four titles: 1. Promotes renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon transportation fuels, electric vehicles and smart grids; 2. Increases energy efficiency; 3. Limits emissions of greenhouse gases; and 4. Protects consumers and promotes green jobs. Title 3 attempts to limit emissions through a market-based program of tradable federal permits (allowances) for each ton of emitted carbon dioxide for all entities that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 83 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans met with committee chairman Henry Waxman and Markey on April 2 to discuss the draft. Afterwards, many Republican committee members told the media they are opposed to the cap-and-trade scheme in title 3. The bill is ambitiously scheduled for a full committee markup on May 11 and while discussions and debates are likely to be contentious and significant, some version of the measure is expected to be approved by the committee. Democratic House leadership has promised to have a climate change bill vote by the full House by Memorial Day.

Details of the draft as well as summaries and comments of both parties are available from the House Energy and Commerce Committee web site.

8. Water and Mining Legislation Make Their Way through Committees

The Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act (H.R. 631) passed the House on February 11, 2009 and moved onto the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a program promoting water efficiency and conservation. The program will look at technology to better store, treat, and distribute water as well as the sociological and economic challenges to water use efficiency. The Senate EPW Subcommittee on Wildlife and Water held a hearing on March 30 to discuss the EPA’s role in promoting water use efficiency.

The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing February 26, 2009 on the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 (H.R. 699). This measure would amend the Hardrock Mining Act of 1872, allowing for various royalties, wilderness sanctuaries, and  regulations to prevent degradation of public lands, and petitions to withdraw specific federal land from possible mining. A similar mining bill passed the House in 2007, but failed to reach the Senate floor.

On April 2, 2009, Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced a mining reform bill that is similar to the House version. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 (S. 796) would eliminate patents, increase fees, collect royalties, require permits, ensure water reclamation, limit forest system land degradation, review future mining claims on certain public lands and establish an abandoned mine reclamation program.

9. House and Senate Introduce Wildfire Bill

The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act, or FLAME Act (H.R. 1404), is a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at creating a separate federal fund dedicated to fighting catastrophic, emergency wildland fires. The rising cost of fire suppression is dominating agency budgets as fire seasons are extending and becoming more intense.  In the past few years the Forest Service has been depleting its firefighting funds before the end of the season, forcing a transfer of funds from other agencies or programs to cover the costs. Creating a separate reserve to supplement expenditures on costly fires will allow agencies to use their existing budgets for core missions as well as for pre-disaster mitigation strategies that allow them, as Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) put it, “to slowly get ahead of the curve, by spending money up front to protect communities, restore natural processes, and manage public lands properly.” Included in the legislation is a mandate for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to submit a long-awaited cohesive wildland fire management strategy to Congress. The FLAME Act is also consistent with the Obama Administration’s proposed wildfire reserve fund.

The legislation was introduced on March 10, 2009 by Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Grijalva of the House Natural Resources Committee, It moved quickly to the floor of whole House where it passed by a vote of 412-3 on March 26. The measure is now with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where relatively rapid consideration is expected.

10. Legislation to Promote Women in Science

Women are a large proportion of the undergraduates in science and engineering, yet only 20 percent of the bachelor degrees awarded in those fields are given to women. Women make up only a small percentage of the science and engineering faculty at research universities, and receive less funding and resources than their male counterparts. 

In order to fully utilize the innovative capacity of all our scientists and remain competitive Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act (H.R. 1144) at the end of February. The legislation aims to overcome the gender bias in science and engineering by requiring workshops to educate federally funded researchers on ways to better conduct impartial evaluations of grants and to extend grant support for researchers with care giving responsibilities. The Office of Science and Technology Policy would develop the policy that would be carried out by major science and engineering programs within the federal agencies.

11. Bill Is Pulled After EPA Announces Coal Ash Regulation

The House’s first proposed legislation for new standards in coal ash impoundment facilities following the 2008 Kingston power plant spill in Roane County, Tennessee was pulled from mark-up on March 9, 2009 after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to start regulating such structures. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) announced he was pulling the Coal Ash Reclamation, Environment, and Safety Act of 2009 (H.R. 493) after the EPA’s announcement. He felt this would remove potential delays and allow the EPA to move forward immediately. "I am pleased that the Obama administration has acted so quickly to overcome 29 years of bureaucratic inertia at the EPA," commented Rahall in a statement concerning the EPA’s planned regulation. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated on March 9, 2009 that the agency will have its proposed regulations on coal ash impoundments available by the end of the year.

12. EPA Fast-Tracks GHG Decision and Proposes Mandatory Reporting

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is slated to release its final decision on whether greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are threatening public health and welfare in mid to late April according to a draft review leaked to Greenwire. The EPA supposedly began interagency reviews of the proposal at the end of March, with a very quick turnaround time proposed. Part of the reason for the rush is that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is refraining from any new emissions mandates until a final decision is reached.

 Another speculated reason was the supposed goal to release the review by April 2, the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that started this process. Jackson has since made it clear that April 2 is too soon for a decision and that she only wanted to be mindful of that date. So far the decision is planned to show that GHGs affect human welfare through changes to temperature, air quality, crops, and the spread of diseases. It will also lump together the six primary GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) into one group following the strategy of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for creating a “common currency.”

The EPA also proposed a rule on March 10 requiring large, industrial GHG emitters to report emissions under the Clean Air Act. The goal is to start a national system to obtain comprehensive and accurate data on the amount of GHGs being emitted both upstream (by suppliers of the fuels) and the direct emitters. Although indirect emissions and small businesses will not be counted, the ruling will cover 85 to 90 percent of U.S. emissions. The first annual report will be submitted to the EPA in 2011 for calendar year 2010 with an estimated annual cost to industry of $127 million, after an initial $160 million the first year. There will be a public hearing in Sacramento, CA and Arlington, VA to discuss this proposed ruling in early April. The ruling is also open to public comment. 

For more information and to submit comments, go to the EPA GHG Emissions website.

13. Court Orders EPA to Reconsider Interstate Emissions

On March 5, 2009, a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-examine the need to enforce reduction of particulate matter emissions from power plants in several southern states that are affecting the air quality in North Carolina. In 2004, North Carolina sought assistance from the EPA to improve its air quality under the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Section 126, a provision that addresses air quality disputes between states. North Carolina looked to the EPA to enforce emissions reductions from power plants in 13 upwind states. The EPA however denied the request in 2006, indicating that the Bush Administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) would take care of the problem of interstate emissions.

CAIR was initiated in 2004 to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and various nitrogen oxides over 28 eastern states using cap and trade programs and other state-level initiatives. However, North Carolina sued EPA over the denial in 2006, stating that CAIR would not clean up the air quickly or effectively. In 2008, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out CAIR and directed the EPA to modify the rule to address interstate emissions as soon as possible. This decision opened the door for North Carolina to again pursue assistance from the EPA. In February the EPA requested from the Court of Appeals a remand of petition from North Carolina, recognizing that the court’s directive to modify CAIR removed the legal basis for EPA’s denial of the petition originally.

14. Supreme Court Deems Forest Service Safe from Lawsuits

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that environmental advocacy groups cannot challenge federal regulations for public lands unless the advocates can prove that they, as individuals, are directly threatened by proposed policies. The decision sided with the Bush administration’s stance that environmental groups should not be allowed to sue the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on land management rules that may conflict with congressional directives.

The Summers v. Earth Island Institute case pitted the Earth Island Institute and other environmental groups against the USFS over proposed logging of over 200 acres of burned forest in the Sequoia National Forest. In the decision, the Supreme Court considered whether the USFS violated the 1992 Appeals Reform Act (Public Law 102-381) when it limited the rights of the public to due notice, appeals, and comment on certain projects.  The Forest Service Decision Making and Appeals Reform section of the 1992 act guaranteed the USFS allowed commentary from the general public when forming resource management plans.

Justice Antonin Scalia stated in his opinion that “except when necessary in the execution of that function, courts have no charter to review and revise legislative and executive action.” The Bush administration also sought more stringent challenge regulations in specific cases, but the Supreme Court ruling did not address this request. Although disappointed from the ruling on Summers v. Earth Island Institute, Western Environmental Law Center attorney Matt Kenna indicated, “We are gratified, somewhat that the court did not adopt the very extreme position the Bush administration had taken in the case.”

The potential implications of the ruling are varied. The dissenting judges questioned how the decision will affect future environmental decisions and whether the courts would protect landowners seeking protection from resource degradation that may occur indirectly or in the future. Justice Stephen Breyer cited the 2007 Supreme Court Massachusetts v. EPA case. In that decision, the court sided with the state of Massachusetts’ claim that the EPA failed to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, even though damage from EPA’s negligence may not occur for several decades.

Industry groups dependent on logging expressed relief with the decision. A representative of several logging-dependent organizations stated that businesses operate with a known, specific set of regulations and environmental restrictions. When non-regulated third parties challenge activities, district courts across the nation often implement contradictory injunctions and disrupt industry activities. Environmentalists suggest the decision will severely affect the public’s right to participate in public land management.

15. USGS Addresses Unknowns about Carbon Storage

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on March 16, 2009 detailing how it will conduct an assessment of potential locations for underground carbon storage. As directed in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (Public Law 110-140), the USGS will conduct a three year national carbon storage assessment. The methods described in the report ensure a uniform approach to estimating carbon storage potential in depleted oil and natural gas reservoirs and saline aquifers.

The assessment will focus on geologic formations that are “technically accessible” with today’s drilling and injection technologies and can hold liquefied carbon for over 10,000 years. While presenting the report, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated that “the report will help us find the best places in the country for this type of carbon sequestration,” which is a “critical first step” in determining how much carbon can be stored in the subsurface. The USGS assessment strategy draws on previous work done by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that estimated 143 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be stored in depleted reservoirs and saline aquifers. The USGS noted that more needs to be learned about the behavior of carbon injected into the subsurface to help refine details in storage potential for different types of geologic formations.

16. USGS Congressional Briefing on Well Water Quality

On March 27, 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held a briefing on Capitol Hill on the status of private water well quality across the nation. Presented at the briefing were findings from a 13-year USGS study that indicated that 1 in 5 wells contain a contaminant that exceeds benchmark levels for human health safety, although most of the contaminants in these wells were naturally occurring. Also presented was an update on a continuing investigation of the relationship between arsenic in private water wells and the occurrence of bladder cancer in New England from the National Cancer Institute. The final presentation, by National Ground Water Association Executive Director Kevin McCray, discussed the results of the USGS study and how the information presented further highlighted the importance of proper well maintenance and stewardship for private well owners.

A full summary of the briefing is available at on our Water and Oceans Policy page.

17. ACS Briefing on Understanding the U.S. Energy Profile

On March 27, 2009, the American Chemical Society (ACS) conducted a briefing with 4 expert panelists on U.S. energy issues. Topics of discussion included the role of energy policy in national security, the current sources and trends in energy use, the state of fossil fuels in the nation’s energy portfolio, the current state of renewable energies, and a forecast for renewable energy potential in the coming decades. Regarding national security and energy policy, Dr. Robert Fri, National Research Council, indicated that “energy independence isn’t going to happen,” but that by lessening dependence on foreign fuel sources, the nation’s economy can be less at risk to global politics and market volatility. Also stressed was the importance of weighing the cost-benefit factors of fuel sources when considering climate change mitigation, as some fuel choices can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also stress other natural resources. Dr. Scott Tinker, President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), indicated that although U.S. oil production has been decreasing since 1979 and total world production has leveled off since 2005, oil will still play a vital role in the world's energy portfolio and is necessary to bridge today’s economy to emerging technologies that are still decades away. Dr. Allan Bard, University of Texas-Austin, indicated that under optimal conditions of implementation, renewable energies will still only comprise 15-20 percent of the nations total energy profile by 2030, but indicated that percentage could increase if “game-changing” technologies are developed and marketed at prices palatable for American industry and consumers alike.

A full summary of the briefing is available on our Energy Policy page.

18. Setback for Science Education in Texas

The Texas Board of Education voted on March 27 to modify both Earth and space sciences (ESS) and biology standards to allow creationists to further scrutinize and question evolutionary science in public schools. Despite receiving petitions against these amendments from 54 scientific and educational societies across the nation, the board passed the measure many feel will not only set back science in Texas, but could affect science education nationally.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and opponent to the amendments stated, “Let's be clear about this, it is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory. The revised wording opens the door to creationism in the classroom and in the textbooks. The decisions will not only affect Texas students for the next ten years, but could result in watered-down science textbooks across the U.S. There's a reason creationists are claiming victory.” As a result of the amendments, creationist claims of the inability of cells to evolve, the age of the universe, and gaps in the fossil record can now be part of scientific textbooks.

19. Five Guys Showcase Geology at Congressional Science Fair

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Geological Society of America (GSA) and the American Geological Institute (AGI) sponsored two booths displaying three geoscience research projects at the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) Exhibition and Reception in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 24.  This Exhibition was an excellent opportunity for policymakers and the public to learn more about the vital role the National Science Foundation (NSF) plays in meeting our nation’s research and education goals.

Five geoscientists prepared easy to read posters and explained their research to congressional staff, some congressional members, NSF Director Arden Bement, other NSF staff and many other scientists. The three projects and the geoscientists who graciously took the time and effort for some science outreach included:

John Peck, an Associate Professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, discussed a continental drilling project at Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, where lake sediments are being investigated to understand past climate changes. Understanding the past is one key to future mitigation and adaptation.  James Spotila from Virginia Tech, Terry Pavlis from University of Texas, El Paso and Sean Gulick from University of Texas-Austin presented the latest results from the St. Elias Erosion Tectonic Project (STEEP). The three geoscientists and many others are deciphering the contributions of erosion, tectonics and climate change on mountain building in Alaska. Understanding the contributions of different forces will help society deal with associated hazards and environmental changes. Peter Kelemen from Columbia University-Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory talked about his research on the rapid absorption of carbon in peridotite and a possible new approach to carbon sequestration.

20. AGI Joins the Science and Human Rights Coalition

The American Geological Institute has recently become part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) newly formed Science and Human Rights Coalition. Founded in January 2009, the coalition’s primary mission is to facilitate communication and partnerships between the scientific and human rights communities. The coalition is a network of scientific societies with the unified goal of enhancing and expanding their roles in human rights issues. The coalition also provides a formal gateway for member societies to communicate their contributions and efforts on human rights as well as the opportunity to explore other discipline-specific contributions that can be made with other coalition members. Another goal of the coalition is the ensure all people worldwide can share the benefits of innovation and technology, as stated in Article 15 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

21. Key Reports and Publications

***Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
2009 Draft U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report
Released March 1, 2009. This draft report contains an inventory of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and sinks between 1990 and 2007. The draft is open for public comment until April 9, 2009.

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Government Accountability Office’s Plans on Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in Science Funding
Released March 19, 2009. This report details the GAO’s strategy in carrying out its oversight responsibilities involving funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA) to agencies conducting basic and applied scientific research and monitoring.

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
On Being a Scientist: Third Edition
Released March 27, 2009. This series provides informal lessons in ethics provided by research supervisors and mentors. The third edition describes ethical foundations of scientific practices and some of the difficult issues researchers encounter in their profession, highlighting developments since the last edition in 1995.

21st Century Innovation Systems for Japan and the United States: Lessons from a Decade of Change: Report of a Symposium
Prepublication released March 24, 2009. This report is a collection of papers from the symposium which reviewed government programs and initiatives to support the development of enterprises, government-university-industry collaboration, and the impact of the intellectual property regime on innovation.

Advice on the Department of Energy’s Cleanup Technology Roadmap: Gaps and Bridges.
Prepublication released March 24, 2009. The book provides insight and advice into the development of a cleanup technology strategy for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) by identifying existing technology gaps and their priorities, strategic opportunities to leverage needed research and development programs, needed core capabilities, and infrastructure that should be maintained.

Observing Weather and Climate from the Ground Up: A Nationwide Network of Networks
Released March 24, 2009. This report describes a strategy of short-term and long-term goals for the federal government in the development of a standardized network of weather observation data that is available throughout the United States. As technology has become more affordable volunteer networks at the state and local level have become more common, but no formal nationwide network exists to gather this information. 

Partnerships for Emerging Research Institutions: Report of a Workshop
Released March 24, 2009. This report summarizes discussions at the 2007 National Academies workshop entitled “Partnerships for Emerging Research Institutions (ERIs).” The motivation for this workshop was looking at the barriers ERIs face in sustaining long-term sponsored research, a critical enterprise considering that one-third of all U.S. institutions of higher learning are ERIs.

A Performance Assessment of NASA's Heliophysics Program
Released March 17, 2009. This report provides an update on the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s (NASA) progress towards meeting objectives

22. Key Federal Register Notices

http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont09.html

EPA--The Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2007 is now available for public view and commentary. The period for submittal of public comment ends on April 9, 2009. U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride are reported for both source category and sector. Comments should be submitted to Mr. Leif Hockstad at:
Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Division (6207J), 1200
Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460. Submittal by email is encouraged and can be sent to hockstad.leif@epa.gov
[Tuesday, March 10 (Vol. 74, No. 45)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Innovation (NCEI) announces the availability of its solicitation for proposals from organizations interested in hosting two symposia over four years supported by the EPA that will focus on sharing and transfer of innovative approaches to environmental protection among states and federal governmental agencies. The grant information is available from the EPA website: http:/www.epa.gov/innovation/2010symposium.htm. Eligible recipients include States, territories, Indian Tribes, interstate organizations, intrastate organizations, and possessions of the U.S., public and private universities and colleges, hospitals, laboratories, other public or private nonprofit institutions, and individuals. For further information on this symposia contact Scott Fontenot at 202-566-2236 or email innovation_state_grants@epa.gov.
[Thursday, March 12 (Vol. 74, No. 47)]

NSF--The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for the Geosciences will hold meetings on April 15, 2009 (8:30 am – 5:00 pm) and on April 16 (8:30 am – 2:00 pm) to provide advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning support for research, education, and human resources development in the geosciences. The open meeting will be held at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, VA. For further information on this meeting contact Melissa Lane, 703-292.8500.
[Friday, March 13 (Vol. 74, No. 48)]

DOI--The Mineral Management Service (MMS) announcers a series of public meetings for information gathering on development of an energy plan for conventional and renewable resources of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The public hearings are part of a four step strategy designed by the Department of Interior to gather public input on leases for oil and gas resources on the OCS as well as emerging renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, and currents. The Secretary of the Interior will convene meetings April 6 in Atlantic City, NJ; April 8 in New Orleans, LA; April 14 in Anchorage, AK; and April 16 in San Francisco, CA. Logistical information for each of the meetings will be posted no later than two weeks prior to each meeting at the MMS website www.mms.gov.
[Wednesday, March 18 (Vol. 74, No. 51)]

DOI--On February 9, 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced a price increase for quadrangle, thematic, National Earthquake Information Center, large format, and poster maps. The original USGS announcement contained incorrect dates. The corrected date for the price increases will be March 16, 2009. The revised prices for these products can be found at http://ask.usgs.gov/prices/faqs prices_usgs_products.html
[Thursday, March 19 (Vol. 74, No. 52)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) will conduct a public meeting to discuss the long range strategic research directions, discuss the FY 2010 EPA research budget, and plan for future SAB activities including a plan for conducting a study and delivering advice on strengthening science assessments at the EPA. The meeting will be held on April 23-24, 2009 in Arlington, VA. For further information on the meeting including access for the meeting via teleconference, contact Thomas Miller at 202-343-9982 or miller.tom@epa.gov.
[Monday, March 23 (Vol. 74, No. 54)]

NSF—The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Polar Programs will conduct meetings on May 4-5, 2009 to discuss challenges and opportunities in polar research, education and infrastructure, and to plan the Arctic and Antarctic Committee of Visitors. Staff members will make presentations during the meeting. The meeting on May 4 will be from 8-5 pm, and 8-3 pm on May 5 at the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230. For more information on the meeting contact Sue LaFratta of the Office of Polar Programs at 703-292-8030.
[Monday, March 23 (Vol. 74, No. 54)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency is announcing the availability of the final report entitled Guidance Document on the Development, Evaluation, and Application of Regulatory Environmental Models. EPA’s Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling (CREM) developed the report and its companion product “Models Knowledge Base” to improve model usage for environmental decision making. The EPA also aims to increase transparency by providing this report and improve the public’s understanding of how science is used to make environmental decisions. The report is available at http://www.epa.gov/crem. To request a paper copy, provide your name, mailing address, title, and EPA documentation number (EPA-HQ-ORD-2009; FRL-8787-5) via email at nscep@bps-lmit.com or phone 800-490-9198. For further information on the report, contact Dr. Noha Gaber, Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling Office of the Science Advisor at gaber.noha@epa.gov or 202-564-2179.
[Tuesday, March 31 (Vol. 74, No. 60)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office is requesting nominations for scientists and engineers with expertise in water infrastructure assessment, rehabilitation, and renewal to augment expertise on the SAB Environmental Engineering Committee (EEC). Nominations should be submitted by April 29. SAB particularly seeks scientists and engineers with specialized expertise in condition assessment, system rehabilitation, and in reducing the cost and improving the effectiveness of operations, maintenance, and replacement of aging and failing drinking water, storm water, and  wastewater treatment and conveyance systems. Qualified nominees will be considered for serving on the EEC and to provide advice on EPA's Aging Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Research Initiative. Nominations should be submitted in electronic format at http://www.epa.gov/sab. For more information on the application process, contact Dr. Edward Hanlon at 202-343-9946 or hanlon.edward@epa.gov.
[Tuesday, March 31 (Vol. 74, No. 60)]

23. 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.
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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 April 2, 2009.