Monthly Review: April 2003
This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.
Energy Bill Passes Full House, Senate Committee
Comprehensive energy legislation passed the House by a 247-175 vote on April 11th. The final bill, H.R. 6, is a combination of four separate bills that passed through the House Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Resources and Science Committees a week earlier. H.R. 6 contains provisions on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), electricity restructuring, oil and natural gas royalty relief, and research and development for President Bush's Hydrogen Initiative, FreedomCar program, energy efficiency, clean-coal technology, and nuclear programs. The legislation also calls for the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science to receive a funding increase of 52% over the next four years.
On April 30th, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) finally achieved passage of his draft energy bill. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) joined all of the committee's Republicans in a 13-10 vote that cleared the way for consideration by the full Senate. Although major changes occurred in the electricity deregulation portion of the bill, the most controversial issues were omitted from consideration in order to move the legislation out of committee. The omitted issues -- including ANWR, reformulated gasoline reform, and climate change -- are likely to reappear on the Senate floor. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) attempted to address the climate change issue during the committee mark-up by introducing an amendment on carbon sequestration, but withdrew it on the urging of Domenici. According to E&E Daily, Wyden criticized the committee for "ducking" climate change in favor of quick committee passage and vowed to re-propose the amendment on the Senate floor. Like its House counterpart, the Senate bill calls for a substantial increase in funding for DOE's Office of Science, up to $5.4 billion in FY 2008 from the current $3.3 billion. The bill would also authorize significant changes in the organizational management of DOE's science programs.
For additional commentary on the current congressional efforts to pass energy legislation, please see the Political Scene column in the May 2003 issue of Geotimes at www.geotimes.org/may03/scene.html.
As reported in last month's review, Congress has been working on developing a budget resolution that will serve as a financial plan, which it agrees to follow both in the appropriations process and in legislation affecting entitlement programs, taxes and other matters affecting revenue. On April 11th, both chambers came to agreement on a $2.2 trillion budget resolution. The resolution breaks down this amount into general, cross-cutting budget functions that include both mandatory and discretionary spending. These broad function accounts are the basis of the so-called 302 allocations that each of the 13 appropriations subcommittees receive as a cap to their spending. All told, the subcommittees will have $784.4 billion in discretionary funds to spend. Function 250, the general science and space account that includes the majority of the funding for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and science at the Department of Energy, is set at $23.9 billion -- a level that would accommodate (but does not mean that it will) a $324 million increase for NSF and a $100 million increase for energy science above the presidentially requested levels. Energy supply research is funded through Function 270 that received $2.6 billion in the agreement. The majority of activities at the Department of the Interior are funded through Function 300 (Natural Resources and Environment) that received $29.3 billion in discretionary spending. It will now be up to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees to decide exactly how much each of the federal programs will receive of the discretionary funds. More at budget.senate.gov and at www.house.gov/budget.
In response to the administration's National Energy Policy report that was released in May 2001, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced changes to the process of approving oil and natural gas drilling permits. BLM Director Kathleen Clarke noted in an agency press release: "These innovative strategies will update the permit application process while ensuring protection of cultural and other resources on public lands." The new procedure would allow the agency to process multiple permits with similar characteristics simultaneously. A key change would allow BLM to prepare Geographic Area National Environmental Policy Act analysis of an entire production field instead of individual assessments for each drilling permit application. The intent of this change, according to BLM, is to evaluate cumulative effects of oil and gas development on the environment and to minimize the need for additional site-specific assessments. Additional information on the new permitting process is available at www.blm.gov/nhp/news/releases/pages/2003/pr030414_ogpermits.htm.
In related news, the BLM Anchorage office has announced a proposal to revise the land-use plan for the northeast section of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA), arguing that a 1998 land-use plan is too prescriptive and does not allow much management flexibility. BLM hopes to move towards a performance-based plan that it believes can accomplish the same goals as the existing plan. Public meetings and opportunities for public comment will be announced later in the year. More on NPRA at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/npra.html.
An April 2nd decision by the US District Court in Washington DC limits what hardrock mines must report to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). At the core of this decision was the question of "whether existing toxic metal compounds that change in chemical compositions during [ore extraction] process are 'manufactured' under" the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1968. The court found that mining waste rock, including naturally occurring toxic metals, do not fall under the EPA's definitions for "manufactured" and "processing" and therefore cannot be included in EPCRA reporting to TRI. For the EPA to change to regulations to include hardrock mining waste rock, the agency would have to go through a new rule-making process that would allow for public comments. This court case is a continuation of the issue of including hardrock mining as one of the industries that must submit annual TRI reports. A 1997 regulation change added mining and other industries to the list of sectors subject to TRI reporting. The next year, the National Mining Association filed suit against the EPA over the revised regulations. More on the TRI at www.epa.gov/tri/.
Efforts are underway again to establish a national water commission to study and develop a comprehensive water strategy. On April 1st, the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on a bill (H.R. 135) to establish the Twenty-First Century Water Commission. A similar bill was offered last Congress but did not gain strong support because of a range of issues. This new bill is more focused with several provisions added in response to earlier opposition. The commission would be scaled back from 17 members to 7 members, and language outlining the commission's charge was clarified. Testimony from all the witnesses and comments from the representatives were overwhelmingly favorable. Bill sponsor Rep. John Linder (R-GA) emphasized that H.R. 135 is not a federal take-over of water policy, but rather a means to help coordinate efforts. Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA) called the legislation "long overdue," and Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) agreed, commenting that the bill recognizes fresh water is not just an issue in the west. Dr. Peter Gleick, Director of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, recommended the water commission remain broad, both in its objectives and its composition. He said the water commission should include representatives from all interested disciplines and emphasized the need to focus on water management issues, such as conservation, instead of only water supply. In related news, the Senate passed S. 212, a bill to monitor, map, and model the High Plains Aquifer, on April 7th. The bill will next be considered by the House Committee on Resources. More on water issues at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/water_hearings.html and www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/highplainsaquifer.html.
On April 16th, the Potential Gas Committee, which consists of volunteer experts from the natural gas industry, government agencies, and academic institutions, released its biannual report estimating long-term natural gas supply. The report estimated 958 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas and 169 TCF of coalbed natural gas above the proven reserves. This estimate joins a January 2003 joint study by the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy on the availability and accessibility of oil and natural gas supply on federal lands. Later in the month, a National Research Council workshop also examined natural gas supply estimates. Speakers touched on a lack of funding for developing new technologies and a decreasing number of students pursuing science as the major hindrances to the natural gas industry. The workshop speakers -- representing industry, research scientists, and governmental agencies -- focused on the role of natural gas within the overall energy picture, narrowing estimates of natural gas reserves and resources, and exploring the import potential of natural gas. For more on the workshop, see a Geotimes Web Extra at www.geotimes.org/apr03/WebExtra042903b.html.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety held its first hearing on the Clear Skies Act (S. 485) on April 8th. Witnesses from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry, labor, and environmental organizations agreed on the need to amend the Clean Air Act but did not agree on how best to proceed. Senators Craig Thomas (R-WY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) voiced concern over how provisions to regulate mercury emissions would affect coal power plants. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman commented that the administration does not believe the first phase of the Clear Skies Act will require large investments from power plants, and that they anticipate the act will lead to a 10% increase in bituminous coal use. Although CO2 regulations are not included in S. 485, there was discussion as to whether CO2, a greenhouse gas, should be included in a bill that would amend the Clean Air Act. Senators James Jeffords (I-VT), co-sponsor of the competing S. 366 that includes strict CO2 regulations, and Tom Carper (R-DE), co-sponsor of a middle-of-the-road bill (S. 843) that also includes CO2 regulations, questioned the panel heavily. Full committee chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), a co-sponsor of the Clear Skies Act, commented that CO2 should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act because it is not a pollutant; Whitman concurred. More on clean air legislation at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/cleanair.html.
Proponents of the teaching of evolution in the nation's public schools faced a number of brushfires this month. In Oklahoma, an amendment was added to the House version of Senate Bill 346, the Oklahoma Educator Protection Act, which would require a disclaimer in all public school science textbooks mentioning evolution. Similar efforts to force such a disclaimer as a stand-alone bill had failed. Earlier in the month, Louisiana State Rep. Ben Nevers (D) introduced House Concurrent Resolution 50, encouraging local school districts to reject textbooks that present evolution as fact. The language in the resolution downgrades evolution from a well-supported scientific theory to one of questionable status. If passed, it would make it easier for school districts to reject textbooks that present evolution accurately and could open the door for the teaching of creationism. The resolution will be considered by the House Education Committee. On April 5th, the board of education in Blount County, Tennessee, rejected the adoption of three biology textbooks because they discuss evolution without mention of creationism. The rejected biology books were previously approved by the state and chosen by biology teachers. It is expected that high school science teachers in Blount County will be asked to develop a new curriculum that includes creationism taught in conjunction with evolution, which will subsequently spur approval of the textbooks. For more on these developments and other evolution/creation brushfires, see www.ncseweb.org.
On April 2-3, earth scientists participated in the eighth annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day. This event drew more than 200 scientists and engineers to visit their members of Congress as constituents. The visits were preceded by a day of briefings by White House and congressional staff and a Capitol Hill reception at which Reps. James Walsh (R-NY) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV) received the George E. Brown Jr. Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership Award. AGI teamed with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to hold a pre-briefing for earth science participants from AGU, the Geological Society of America, American Meteorological Society and American Society for Limnology and Oceanography. Taking place at AGU's headquarters, the briefing featured presentations from current congressional fellows and representatives from DOE, NOAA, NSF and USGS. More on CVD, at www.agiweb.org/cvd.
At the end of April, the American Institute of Professional Geologists brought its leadership and several state geologists to Washington for the annual Fly-In. Over the course of three days, the participants met with more than 30 federal agencies and congressional committees as well as their own members of Congress to discuss issues important to the geoscience profession.
Late spring marks the quiet before the storm of activity in drafting legislation for the 13 annual appropriations bills. The budget release is ancient history and the last of the congressional hearings on the request have been held. During this pause is when many groups and members of Congress build up their campaigns to influence what the draft bills will look like later in the year. AGI started the month by submitting testimony in support of geoscience programs at the Department of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and several other agencies. The testimony is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/gapac/testimony.html.
Another way of making one's voice heard in Washington is to join
it to a great many others. For example, AGI joined 64 other organizations
in urging members of Congress to support the Department of Education's
Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. The statement requested
that Congress provide this program with $200 million to ensure that
MSP remains a competitive state-based program. Also making rounds
on Capitol Hill is a "Dear Colleague" letter -- a way
for members of Congress to show their shared support on an issue
- on NSF. Sponsored by Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Nick Smith (R-MI),
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ralph Hall (D-TX), and Rush Holt (D-NJ),
the letter calls for $6.39 billion in fiscal year 2004, a figure
that would put the foundation on a five-year doubling track. The
letter and a list of current signers are available at, www.cnsfweb.org/Ehlers-dearcolleague-apr03.html.
The April 2003 issue of Geotimes is the magazine's eighth annual special geoscience and public policy issue. Guest edited by Wisconsin State Geologist Jamie Robertson, the issue focuses on how scientific work done by state geological surveys is being applied to policymaking at the state and local level. The cover story describes the efforts of the Utah Geological Survey to better understand the state's earthquake risks. Two other features deal with water issues in Wisconsin and Nebraska. The fourth feature describes a field camp for policymakers organized by the New Mexico survey. Texas State Geologist Scott Tinker provides a Comment on the declining funding for the Department of Energy's oil and natural gas research programs. These articles can be found on the web at www.geotimes.org/apr03/.
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 2003. 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 May 15, 2003. For more information,
please visit www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/internse.html.
The following list contains Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices that may be of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at www.regulation.gov.
Every month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) releases final rule on Modified Base (1-percent annual-chance) Flood Elevations for several communities that are used to calculate flood insurance premium rates related to the National Flood Insurance Program. This month, these announcements were made in Vol. 68, No. 82 (29 April 2003): p. 22616-22623.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Monthly review prepared by Margaret A. Baker, AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Charna Meth and David Applegate.
Sources: Bureau of Land Management, coalition statements, court documents, E & E Daily, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Register, Greenwire, hearing testimony, National Center for Science Education, Potential Gas Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted May 6, 2003