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Monthly Review: April 2004


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.

Overall Budget Numbers Still Undecided
Energy Bill Update
North Slope Natural Gas One Step Closer to World Markets
Ultra-Deep Natural Gas Research and Development
U.S. Ocean Commission Report
Earth Observation GEO-4 Meeting
OFAC and IEEE Report of Foreign Scientist Publishing
Mercury Update
Evolution Battles Continue on Three Fronts
Georgia
Montana
Alabama
Bush Administration Use of Science
Changes to OMB Peer Review Guidelines
EPA Science Advisory Board Nominations
USGS Minerals Announcement
Escalante Decision
USGS 125th Anniversary Resolution
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material Added to Website

 

Overall Budget Numbers Still Undecided

A final deal on the FY '05 budget resolution remains elusive as congressional leaders continue in their more than month long effort to reach an agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK), House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) and other GOP leaders are meeting to discuss how to pay for President Bush's future tax cuts, the largest obstacle separating them from passage of the budget. But no agreement has been reached.

The budget resolution sets total spending limits for Congress as they draft their 13 annual appropriations bills, which fund such government agencies such as the EPA and the Energy and Interior departments. According to the Budget Act of 1974, without a budget resolution in place the House can still move forward in the annual appropriations process after May 15th. The Senate, however, does not face the same time restrictions. Instead, the Senate must obtain a simple majority vote to overcome any procedural objections before bringing up any of the 13 spending bills if they cannot come to an agreement and pass a final budget resolution. Indeed, this would add another 13 hurdles to an already laborious budget process made more difficult because this is an election year.

Energy Bill Update

The last week in April found the Senate debating the $13 billion energy tax package, which was attached to a corporate tax bill. On April 29th, the Senate held a cloture vote to end debate on the bill and move toward a yes-or-no vote. This type of vote not only ends debate but also is frequently used by Congress as a litmus test for support on an issue. The cloture vote failed by five votes, which is three more votes against the energy tax package than last November when the energy conference report was voted on by the chamber. This means that things are not moving in a positive direction for those Senators who wish to pass an energy bill, or parts of an energy bill, this year. According to Greenwire, energy bill issues are likely to be on hiatus until fall but there is some hope that summer energy problems such as blackouts and high gasoline prices may have changed some minds (and votes) by the end of the season.

North Slope Natural Gas One Step Closer to World Markets

In early April, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (R) signed a new law that appropriates $1.65 million to help bring North Slope natural gas to world markets. The legislation includes $650,000 for development of a project to export super-chilled liquefied natural gas. State officials are having trouble with bids for the building of the pipeline. One of the main companies withdrew its bid and another has stepped in and proposed to build the 745-mile pipeline with help from the U.S. and Canadian governments. State officials are still hoping to solicit more bids. The Alaska Gasline Port Authority has won a commitment from Calpine Corp. from California to negotiate a purchase price, including a tariff, to ship gas through the proposed pipeline. Under the Stranded Gas Act, a 1998 state law, Alaska my offer bonds or other incentives to private companies to help liberate some of the North Slope's estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to markets in the lower 48 states. Tax provisions in the national energy bill in the Senate would provide billions in federal guarantees for construction of the pipeline.

More on this can be found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/npra.html.

Ultra-Deep Natural Gas Research and Development

At the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing on April 29th, there was wide-spread support for ultra-deep (over 1500m) natural gas exploration. Many of the members who attended the hearing expressed concern over dwindling domestic natural gas resources, rising prices and dependence on foreign sources. They believe all of these problems will be relieved by exploring ultra-deep resources. The subcommittee would like to develop a 10-year, $2 billion research and development (R&D) budget for ultra-deep exploration in central and western Gulf of Mexico, in addition to development of some onshore locations. The R&D spending would be used for new and enhanced seismic technologies to help better identify ultra-deep gas fields. The only representative to express apprehension about ultra-deep water drilling was Rep. Allen (D-ME), who wanted to make sure three concerns were addressed: Can ultra-deep extraction reduce foreign dependence on fuel? Is government funding absolutely necessary? and What are the risks to the ocean ecosystem? Representative Allen's questions and concerns were not addressed at the hearing.

U.S. Ocean Commission Report

On April 20th, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released its long-awaited report on the state of the world's oceans. The report recommends reorganizing the fragmented system of federal oversight by consolidating much of the ocean management authority within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which contains both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Ocean Service. The report contains over 200 recommendations for Congress and Cabinet Agencies. Most notably, the commission recommends building an Integrated Ocean Observing System to monitor the oceans. The system would be a central part of the Earth Observation System, which is currently under development by the U.S. and nearly 50 other nations (story below). Public comments on the Ocean Commission's preliminary report are being accepted until May 21, 2004. The full report and instructions for submitting comments are available at: http://oceancommission.gov.

A summary of the report is available on AGI's website at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/ocean.html.

Earth Observation GEO-4 Meeting

On April 25th, environment officials from 47 countries and the European Commission met to discuss moving forward on the construction of a global Earth observation system. The officials discussed a framework document that will provide a 10-year implementation plan for the system. The U.S. delegation was lead by EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and included White House Science Advisor John Marburger as well as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator (NOAA) Conrad Lautenbacher. The system would link thousands of satellites, ocean buoys, surface weather observing stations and other instruments to improve data collection about the planet. NOAA currently has a system in place to forecast for El Nino events, which took two decades to build but has saved California more than $1 billion in damages. The next step is for the plan itself to be presented at the Earth Observation III summit in February 2005.

The most up-to-date information on the Earth observation system can be found on-line at http://earthobservations.org/.

OFAC and IEEE Report of Foreign Scientist Publishing

In early April the U.S. Treasury Department ruled that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) may edit, without restriction, articles written by authors in countries under trade embargoes. Previous government decisions required that a special license was necessary to edit these articles. However, the ruling was specific to the IEEE peer-review and editing process and it is unclear whether this ruling will apply to other publishers. According to the Association of American Publishers the Office of Foreign Assets Control is still insisting that "collaborative interaction between the publisher and foreign author is prohibited." The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that IEEE is pleased with the outcome and sees it as a "green light" to resume full editing and peer review.

Mercury Update

The EPA was scheduled to finalize the regulations controlling mercury by mid-December 2004, but the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) offered to extend the deadline by three months to March 15, 2005 and the EPA accepted that offer in late April. In addition to extending the date for the final rule, EPA administrator Mike Leavitt said he would extend the public comment period on the mercury proposal through June 29th. The NRDC offered the extension so that the EPA could conduct more analysis on the rule and solicit additional public comment.

AGI updates on this issue can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mercury.html.

In related news, six Democratic senators and one Independent called for an investigation by the EPA inspector general of the agency's procedures in writing the latest rule to control mercury pollution. The senators charge that the new rule is so lax that it threatens to undermine enforcement of the Clean Air Act. They accuse the new rule of containing language written by industry lawyers and false information inserted by the White House. The EPA was under a court order to issue the rule, which requires owners of power plants to install the "maximum available control technology" for removing mercury gases from their smokestacks. Plant owners are arguing against strict mercury controls, saying that reliable technology is not available to remove mercury from smoke.

Evolution Battles Continue on Three Fronts

Georgia
In 2002, the Cobb County School District in Georgia issued a requirement that all textbooks that contain material discussing evolution have a disclaimer in the front of the book that warns that: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." Five parents sued the school system to get the stickers removed in August 2002, and in early April 2004, a federal judge ruled that the case had merit and could go to trial. The Supreme Court issued a three-pronged test of the constitutionality of issues related to the separation of church and state in 1971. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in order to get the lawsuit dismissed the Cobb County School Board had to prove "that the sticker was adopted with a secular purpose; that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and that it does not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion." The judge found that school board only met the first criteria. The case is expected to go to trial later this year.

Montana
On April 6th, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the superintendent of schools in Darby, Montana, requesting all documents relating to any decision of the school board to teach theories on the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism, intelligent design or any other objective origins theories. This request was spurred by the Darby school boards recent preliminary approval to change school policy to include objective origins theory, usually a form of creationism or intelligent design, in the curriculum.

Alabama
On April 8th, the Alabama Senate passed SB 336, the Academic Freedom Act, that provides protection for both teachers and students who want to freely discuss creationism, as long as the discussion is raised in the context of approved curricula material. The students must also show "acceptable understanding" of the course materials. Meaning, as long as evolution is in the curriculum, then alternate viewpoints (whether based on science or not) may legally be discussed.

Bush Administration Use of Science

In March, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a report and a letter to the Bush Administration accusing the administration of suppressing and distorting the scientific analyses of federal agencies to match the administration's policies. On April 2nd, Dr. John Marburger, the Bush Administration's top science official released a rebuttal of each of the UCS claims. The UCS report can be viewed at: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/index.html. Dr. Marburger's response can be viewed at: www.ostp.gov.

Changes to OMB Peer Review Guidelines

In mid-April, the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made several important changes to science policy. The White House proposed changes to guidelines that require federal agencies to submit scientific studies being used to form the basis for new government regulations to independent peer review. The first draft of these changes was announced just prior to Labor Day last year.

As reported last August, the guidelines are part of OMB's efforts to emphasize the management side of its mission and are the brainchild of John Graham, who heads the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In a press release, Graham stated: "Peer review is an effective way to further engage the scientific community in the regulatory process…. The goal is fewer lawsuits and a more consistent regulatory environment, which is good for consumers and business." Although the guidelines are intended to establish government-wide standards for peer review, Graham has stated that the agencies likely to be most heavily affected by the new guidelines are the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Changes to the first draft include allowing federal agencies to release science about public health or medical risks without first getting OMB approval. Opponents of the new guidelines are expressing concern that the implementation of the proposal would lead to increased costs and delays in disseminating information to the public, especially where health and safety are concerned. To read the new OMB changes to the proposal go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/fy2004/2004-08.pdf.

EPA Science Advisory Board Nominations

The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) staff office is soliciting nominations for the SAB Ecological Processes and Effects Committee to review the EPA's Critical Ecosystem Assessment Model. The SAB committee wants to provide the EPA with comments on the conceptual framework and methodology used to identify ecologically significant ecosystems and on the scientific defensibility of the results generated from Critical Ecosystem Assessment Model inquires. Any person or organization may nominate an individual with the scientific qualifications in this area of expertise. The deadline for nominations is May 12th. Nomination forms can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/sab/sab_panel_form.htm.

USGS Minerals Announcement

The Mineral Resources Program of the USGS will be awarding grants under its Mineral Resources External Research Program. This program is aimed at universities, state agencies, tribal governments or organizations, and industry to conduct research in areas that meet the goals of the Mineral Resources Program. The total amount of funding available for all fiscal year 2004 grants is $200,000. Grant applications will be accepted though May 14th and can be found at: http://www.grants.gov.

Escalante Decision

On April 19th, a federal judge upheld President Clinton's 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument under the Antiquities Act. The judge denied the request by the Utah Association of Counties and Mountain States Legal Foundation to declare the designation unlawful. Opponents of the designation say that President Clinton overstepped his bounds in designating the monument. They plan to appeal the ruling.

Background information can be found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/escalante.html.

USGS 125th Anniversary Resolution

In early March, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) introduced a resolution to congratulate the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on its 125th anniversary. The resolution (H. Res. 556) states: "The House of Representatives… expresses strong support for the United States Geological Survey as it serves the Nation by providing timely, relevant, and objective scientific information which helps to describe and understand the Earth, minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources, and enhance and protect the quality of life of all Americans."

The commemorative resolution has 11 original co-sponsors, including House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-FL). The resolution was introduced with the support of the USGS Coalition. To help support the USGS on its 125th anniversary, please ask your Representative to co-sponsor H. Res. 556. The House of Representatives switchboard number is 202-224-3121, and you can find the e-mail address for your Representative at http://www.house.gov. To read the resolution, log onto http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.RES.556:

List of Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont04.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

EPA, Comment on proposed changes to analysis and sampling procedures in wastewater regulations. Comments must be received by June 7, 2004. Send comments to: Water Docket, U.S. EPA (4101T), 1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington DC or to www.epa.gov/edocket. Volume 69, Number 66 (6 April 2004): pp. 18165-18226.

DOI, Minerals Management Service requests comments and suggestions to amend regulations for transporting oil and gas across the Outer Continental Shelf. Comments must be submitted by June 11, 2004 to Director, Minerals Management Service, Attn: Policy and Management Improvement, 1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop 4230, Washington DC. Volume 69, Number 70 (12 April 2004): pp. 19137-19139.

NASA, Biological and Physical Science Research Advisory Committee Meeting, May 20-21, 2004. NASA Headquarters, 300 E Street SW, Room 6H46, Washington DC. Volume 69, Number 84 (30 April 2004): pp. 23823.

New Material on Web Site

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update: *

  • Action Alert: Representatives Needed to Support Seismic Network (4-23-04)
  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (4-19-04)
  • Superfund and Brownfield Legislation (4-19-04)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (4-16-04)
  • Mercury Policy (4-16-04)
  • Natural Gas Policy (4-15-04)
  • National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (4-13-04)
  • Mining Policy (4-12-04)
  • Wetlands Policy (4-7-04)
  • High-Level Nuclear Waste Legislation (4-7-04)

Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program and Gayle Levy, 2004 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Association of American Publishers, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chronicle of Higher Education, Greenwire, House of Representatives hearing summary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of State

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

Posted May 10, 2004

 

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