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
The current monthly review and archived monthly reviews are all available online. Subscribe to receive the Government Affairs Monthly Review by email.
Geoscientists are invited to join organized groups of scientists and engineers for workshops and visits with congressional members and committees in April and September 2010. Decision makers need to hear from all geoscientists—professors, researchers, industry professionals, professional society representatives, and students. Become a citizen geoscientist and join many of your colleagues for a workshop at AGU headquarters followed by a day conducting visits with members of Congress or congressional staff on Capitol Hill to make known the importance of geoscience research, development, and education.
April 28-29, 2010
Several geoscience societies, including AGI, AAPG, AGU and GSA, are involved in organizing these events. Please contact Linda Rowan, firstname.lastname@example.org, Director of Government Affairs at AGI, or the public policy office of one of the other societies with any questions and to sign-up. Download and distribute a flyer for this event from the AGI web site.
Interested in coming to Washington, DC for a paid internship covering geoscience policy at the federal level? The American Geological Institute’s Government Affairs Program seeks outstanding geoscience students (masters or undergraduate) with a strong interest in federal science policy for fall, spring, and summer internships. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone their writing and web publishing skills. Interns receive a stipend through the generous support of the American Geological Institute and the American Institute of Professional Geologists Foundation or the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
Apply by April 15 for the fall internship. For more information, and how to apply, go to: www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html
President Obama announced a new proposal for offshore drilling on March 31. The plan would open parcels of the outer continental shelf (OCS), which were previously blocked by a drilling moratorium. New land available for exploration and development is in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off of the north coast of Alaska. The Department of the Interior press release on the new OCS plan includes maps of the proposed regions to be opened for exploration. Any drilling would still be many years away because of needed exploration, regulatory requirements and other requirements. The Interior Department emphasized the need for science to guide exploration potential and environmentally responsible drilling. The U.S. Geological Survey would be involved in assessing offshore resources and seismic reconnaissance would help guide decisions on future drilling leases.
The administration’s move drew positive and negative criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, some Republicans felt ending the moratorium was a step in the right direction, but other barriers to drilling reflected the administration’s intent to implicitly continue the moratorium. Meanwhile, some Democrats were dismayed by the decision, arguing it would put America’s coastal environments and marine wildlife in danger. Opponents also claim that the economic benefits did not outweigh the risks.
Obama wants to move past the partisan divide on offshore drilling saying, “Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place,” he said, “because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.”
For more information, see the press release from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
On March 8, 2010 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) posted an update on their Public Access Policy Forum. The forum allowed interested parties to submit comments about improving public access to the results of federally funded research. The update states that OSTP is still reviewing all of the comments and is not yet ready to publicly discuss policy recommendations. OSTP has moved all of the blog posts and email submissions to a series of PDF documents. Interested readers can go to the update post to view the PDF documents through multiple links. AGI and several member societies submitted comments. All geoscience societies with publications should review the OSTP initiative and submissions and consider how policy changes might affect their publications and organizations.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees and Subcommittees are holding hearings on the President’s budget requests for fiscal year 2011 and legislators’ concerns and issues about appropriations. So far the most controversial issues regarding science-related requests are the termination of NASA’s Constellation program, which was supposed to develop America’s next generation human spaceflight capabilities; the termination of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository; the formation of a variety of new energy research centers at the Department of Energy, the re-organization of NPOESS into the Joint Polar Satellite System mission and the formation of a Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The House Science and Technology started the process of re-authorization for the America COMPETES Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-69) at the end of March. America COMPETES authorized a doubling of the physical science research budgets at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a mark-up of the Department of Energy section of the bill on March 25. A Committee Print includes three titles: Department of Energy Office of Science Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 4905), ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 4906) and the Energy Innovation Hubs Authorization Act of 2010. The language describes authorized levels of funding for programs and provides direction for energy research that the legislators believe should be priorities for the Department of Energy.
The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education is working on a draft of the National Science Foundation section of the bill. This section will prescribe authorized levels of funding for research and education at NSF over a five year period. Legislators are likely to provide guidance on fellowships, scholarships and education in the language. Mark-up of the NSF portion is scheduled for April 14.
The Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology is working on a draft of the National Institute of Standards and Technology section of the bill. Subcommittee mark-up should occur in mid-April followed by a full committee mark-up of the entire bill at the end of April.
The House passed the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2010 (H.R. 3650), with a vote of 251-103, to reauthorize and expand research on deadly coastal algal outbreaks. About $41 million would be authorized for eleven different research programs annually for detection, prediction and elimination of the blooms. The bill would direct federal funding to research on coastal dead zones.
Harmful algal blooms, sometimes called “red tides”, are concentrated areas of algae that deplete the ocean of oxygen upon decomposition and create low oxygen, or hypoxic, “dead zones”. In addition to hypoxia the algae may release toxins that are harmful to marine life and humans. Harmful blooms have been observed for centuries and the harmful algal blooms act was first signed into law in 1998 (Public Law 105-383) and re-authorized in 2004 (Public Law 108-456). The measure is meant to understand the causes of the blooms, monitor their development, warn the public and mitigate the hazard.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director Jane Lubchenco said the blooms are increasing in frequency, severity and duration in her testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee in March. The legislation would establish the first federal task force assigned to prepare regional action plans to mitigate the effects of algal blooms.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S.1252), which investigates the interplay between human and marine health. The original legislation required consideration of climate change, but a substitute amendment removed the reference. Striking the phrase “climate change” does not prohibit research that incorporates climate change impacts into the consideration of ocean health. The legislation maintains $60 million authorization levels per year s the previous act of 2004.
The legislation uses a cross-disciplinary and a multi-agency approach to answer critical questions about the relationship between human and marine health. Half of the funds are used for competitive external research grants and the other half goes to NOAA’s ocean and human health program. Research may still address issues such as climate change, as well as beach closures, hypoxia, and utilizing marine resources for pharmaceutical development.
The bill calls for the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish a task force to develop plans for future human-ocean health research and present it to Congress within five years.
The House passed legislation that increases education funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Literacy Grant Program and the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program. H.R. 3644 directs a 10 percent annual increase over the next five years for a total disbursement of $145.7 million.
The B-WET program is an environmental marine education program that promotes hands-on learning for K-12 students. The Environmental Literacy Grant Program funds educators to implement a broad range of informal and formal education projects on state to national scales. An amendment from Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), which would have added offshore petroleum seepage to the suggested curriculum, was blocked by House Democrats.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was planning to add some amendments to their key energy bill, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462), in March, but the hearing was canceled because of health care reform acrimony. Look for possible amendments related to energy efficiency and other topics to be considered in April.
The House-approved climate change bill (H.R. 2454) remains in limbo as the Senate struggles to prepare their own bill. Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) remain the leading authors of an unfinished draft that is suppose to become the main Senate climate change bill. Media reports suggest the senators will drop cap and trade, allow oil and gas drilling in more areas offshore, restrict the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating hydraulic fracturing and enhance incentives for nuclear power plant development.
The latest media reports suggest that the three senators are working on a “reduction and refund” approach that would target every industrial sector, but will involve different allocations, different emission limits and different target dates. The senators may try to link the transportation fuel sector with the industrial sector by tying a transportation fuel fee to an industrial carbon market fee. The senators hope to introduce their legislation in the Senate around Earth Day, which is April 22.
Representative Don Young (R-AK) introduced the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act (H.R. 4847) in the House this March. The legislation would authorize $15 million annually for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS). NVEWS is a proposed national-scale plan to ensure the 57 most dangerous and under-monitored volcanoes in the U.S. are properly monitored by upgrading existing networks, installing new networks, and creating a 24/7 watch office and national volcano data center to provide timely and accurate hazard forecasts to reduce risk to life and property.
The plan was developed by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program and its affiliated partners in the Consortium of U.S. Volcano Observatories. This is parallel legislation to the Senate bill (S. 782) introduced by the Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D), which is currently awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced a bill, the Rare Earths Supply-Chain Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4866), that would authorize assessments and programs to secure a domestic rare earth element exploration, development and production system. Rare earth elements are critical for clean energy technologies, such as wind turbines, hybrid vehicles, catalytic converters and energy-efficient light bulbs. China produces more than 93 percent of the current supply of rare earth elements and policymakers are concerned about supply and demand pressures now and in the future. The measure includes some of the recommendations from a 2008 National Academy of Sciences report. Molycorp Minerals, the only domestic rare earth element producer is headquartered in Coffman’s district, although the one producing mine is located in California.
President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have proposed cuts to the Abandoned Mine Land program that have met with some opposition in Congress. The Abandoned Mine fund collects royalties from coal production to cleanup primarily coal mines that were abandoned before the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 became law. The Department of the Interior fiscal year 2011 budget proposes cutting payments to Wyoming, Montana, Louisiana and Texas and three tribes—the Crow, Hopi and Navajo—that do not have high-priority coal cleanup sites. These cuts would save $1.2 billion over the next 10 years.
Some of the states also use the money to restore abandoned hardrock mines, which do not have a comparable cleanup program. Those states oppose the cuts, though it is unclear if the funds can legally be used for programs other than coal mine cleanup. To clarify the 1977 law, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has introduced legislation (S. 2830) that would specify the rights of states and tribes to use the money for hardrock mine reclamation.
Various environmental cleanup provisions for hardrock mining sites are in the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 in the Senate and House (S. 796 and H.R. 699), however Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has declared there is no time for a hardrock mining reform bill on the floor this year. This leaves future funding for abandoned mine clean-up uncertain.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final ruling today that no stationary sources will be required to get Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gases (GHGs) before January 2011. This provides time for large industrial facilities and the government to implement technologies to control and reduce carbon emissions. This ruling follows EPA’s reconsideration of the Bush Administration memorandum from former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on when the government should regulate carbon dioxide from stationary sources sent to the Office of Management and Budget earlier in March.
The “Johnson memorandum” says facilities should get permits only for pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. In her final reconsideration, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson follows that recommendation. Currently, however, it is being debated whether GHGs will be regulated by the Clean Air Act (see February article). This is the first step in EPA’s phased in approach to addressing GHG emissions laid out by Jackson in a letter last February.
The Environmental Protection Agency has opened a public comment period for the annual release of the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008 report. The public comment period began on March 15, 2010 and closes 30 days following (April 14, 2010). The report calculates annual emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons on a national level. Calculations account for carbon dioxide sinks such as vegetation and soils.
Total GHG emissions for the U.S. in 2008 were about 7,000 metric carbon dioxide equivalent tons, a 2.9 percent decrease from the previous year. However, GHG emissions show an overall growth of 13.6 percent during the time period of 1990-2008.
More information on the draft report and how to submit public comments is available here.
On April 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized new automobile fuel efficiency standards and the first-ever federal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards to take effect for new vehicles in 2012. The agreement, based on California’s auto emissions standards enacted in 2004, will increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards—originally set by Congress in 1975 and managed by the EPA and DOT—to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Congress set the same fuel efficiency standards in the Energy Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140), but gave carmakers until 2020 to reach the goal. The new agreement limits carbon dioxide emissions for passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles to an average of 250 grams per mile per vehicle by 2016.
The ability of the EPA to limit carbon dioxide emissions follows the EPA decisions that it has the authority to regulate GHGs as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. These rules will mark the first time GHGs are officially subjected to regulation under the Clean Air Act, legitimizing EPA’s ability set GHG requirements for others sources as well, like those EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proposed earlier this month (see 14).
On April 1, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new water quality standards for surface mining that should help restrict mountaintop mining operations from dumping waste into streams. The standard requires a specified level of conductivity in streams. Mining waste can add salts, sulfides and other pollutants that alter conductivity, so requiring a certain level of conductivity may prevent waste dumping. The regulations are effective immediately, however EPA is accepting public comment and may consider revisions. The regulations only apply to surface mines in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Senator Byrd (D-WV) praised the regulations and environmental groups called the action long overdue, while industry groups called the action a job killer.
According to a Bureau of Reclamation press release, the bureau is seeking proposals for projects “that seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy in water management, protect endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, and carry out other activities to address climate-related impacts on water or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.” The initiative is the first step in a new Department of the Interior program called WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America's Resources for Tomorrow). The program is “intended to address the most significant challenges facing our water supplies in the 21st century, including population growth, climate change, rising energy demands, environmental needs, and aging infrastructure.”
Proposals should be submitted to www.grants.gov before May 4, 2010.
Late last year the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced it would establish regional Climate Science Centers to study the impacts of climate change. The University of Alaska was officially selected to host the first center, which will be located in Anchorage. The center should be operational within six to eight weeks. DOI Secretary Ken Salazar calls Alaska “ground zero for climate change” because melting sea ice and permafrost already affect local communities.
The centers will study the impacts of climate change, and use information to aid land managers in developing adaptation plans and regional education initiatives. Centers will be staffed by researchers and scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), partner organizations, and outside experts.
The DOI is seeking further grant proposals for regional centers in the northwest, southeast, southwest and north central regions.
In a first ever partnership with industry, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a joint agreement with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) to increase funding for basic research in the geosciences over the next five years. NSF and AAPG hope to work together on bettering hazard mitigation, understanding natural resources, increasing knowledge of paleoclimate and current climate issues, restoring ecosystems, addressing workforce and education issues, and other critical geosciences challenges facing the nation. The agreement will go into effect starting July 1, 2010.
A new report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, presents evidence for why so few women are in these fields while they are increasingly prominent in medicine, law and business. The report covers key research findings that addressed stereotypes, gender bias and the atmosphere of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities. It also offers new ideas for what to do to more fully open scientific and engineering fields to girls and women.
***Congressional Research Services (CRS)***
President Obama has requested increases in the R&D budgets of the three agencies that were targeted for doubling in the America COMPETES Act (over seven years) and by President Bush under his American Competitiveness Initiative (over ten years). This report will be updated as Congress acts on appropriations bills that include funding for research, development and related funding.
Haiti Earthquake: Crisis and Response
***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
Recovery Act: Factors Affecting the Department of Energy's Program Implementation
Federal Education Funding: Overview of K-12 and Early Childhood Education Programs
Oil and Gas Bonds: Bonding Requirements and BLM Expenditures to Reclaim Orphaned Wells
***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***
Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Methods to Support International Climate Agreements
Forging the Future of Space Science: The Next 50 Years: An International Public Seminar Series Organized by the Space Studies Board: Selected Lectures
Revitalizing NASA's Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation, and Developing a Workforce
NOAA's Education Program: Review and Critique
Understanding Climate's Influence on Human Evolution
Electricity from Renewable Resources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments
The full federal register can be accessed at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont10.html.
NRC—The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is soliciting input on topics for discussion at the June 23-24, 2010 public meeting entitled, “Spent Fuel Storage and Transportation Licensing Conference.” The purpose of the proposed meeting is to discuss areas of improvement for spent fuel storage and transportation licensing activities. Topics for discussion must be submitted by May 14, 2010. For further information contact Kevin Witt at (301) 492-3323 or Kevin.Witt@nrc.gov.
NSF—The National Science Foundation announced that three advisory committees have been renewed because of necessity and public interest. The committees are: Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education, Proposal Review Panel for Industrial Innovations and Partnerships, and Proposal Review Panel for Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation. Effective date for renewal is March 1, 2010. For more information please contact Suzanne Bolton at (703) 292-7488.
EPA—Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board announces a public meeting of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee NOX and SOX. The EPA’s first external review draft was released in March 2010 will be reviewed in early April. A teleconference will be held on May 3, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m to review and approve the draft. General information concerning the panel and documents can be found on the EPA web site at http://www.epa.gov/casac. For further information contact Dr. Holly Stallworth, at (202) 343-9867 or e-mail at email@example.com.
DOE—The Office of Fossil Energy announced the availability of the 2010 Annual Plan for Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research and Development Program. The plan is available digitally on the DOE website http://management.energy.gov/FOIA/1480.htm, and is also available in print by contacting Elena Melchert, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Oil and Natural Gas, Mail Stop FE-30, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585 or phone: 202-586-5600 or e-mail to UltraDeepwater@hq.doe.gov.
NASA—The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced a meeting of the NASA Advisory Committee from April 20-21, 2010. The meeting will be held at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and begins at 8:30am both days. Discussions will cover the Science Mission Directorate program status, the 2010 Science Plan, discussion of Subcommittees, Earth & Space Science Utilization of the International Space Station, and the Technology Programs. For more information contact Marian Norris, at (202) 358-4452, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DOD—the Department of Defense intends to grant an exclusive license for a non-government patent from an April 2009 application for a soil stabilization invention. The technology claimed in this patent application improves a soil's resistance to deformation, prevents complete rewetting of the soil which improves freeze-thaw resistance and durability, and reduces fugitive dust. This method of stabilization provides for immediate use with no curing time necessary and is particularly effective in extreme cold climates with sandy, gravelly soils where emulsions and hydraulic cements will not effectively cure. For further information contact Phillip Stewart at (601) 634-4113 or Phillip.email@example.com.
DOI—Minerals Management Service has officially determined that there is no longer a national need for the Royalty-in-Kind (RIK) program. This will discontinue RIK, however all existing contracts will be honored until completion. This announcement follows the September 16, 2009 announcement by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar that the RIK program was to begin phasing out. For further information contact Colin Bosworth by phone (303) 231-3186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NASA—The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced a meeting for the NASA Advisory Council Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense to discuss Near Earth Objects. The meeting will be open to the public up to the seating capacity of the room. The meeting will be held in Cambridge Massachusetts on April 15-16, 2010. For more information contact Jane Parham, at (202) 358-1715 or email@example.com.
Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, American Institute of Physics, National Center for Science Education, Government Accountability Office, Open CRS, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Politico.
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Compiled April 5, 2010.