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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update: *
Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program 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