Monthly Review: April 2006


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.


New USGS Director Nominated by the President

President Bush has nominated Mark D. Myers, former State Geologist and head of Alaska's Geological Survey, to be the new director for the U. S. Geological Survey. Acting Director Patrick Leahy will continue to serve as the head of the USGS until Myers is confirmed by the Senate.

According to Acting Secretary Lynn Scarlett "Mark is known not only for his accomplishments as a geologist and state survey manager but also for the consensus building approach he has emphasized throughout his career. He brings more than 22 years of wide ranging experience in geological science and strong leadership skills to the U.S. Geological Survey."

Myers is a past president and board member of the Alaska Geological Society; a certified professional geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists; a certified petroleum geologist with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; and a licensed geologist with the State of Alaska.

He received his doctorate in geology from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in 1994, specializing in sedimentology, clastic depositional environments, surface and subsurface sequence analysis and sandstone petrography. Myers earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Senators Cornyn and Lieberman Introduce Open Access Legislation

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, on May 2, 2006. The legislation would require all federal agencies with research budget of more than $100 million to develop and implement a public access policy that would, according to Cornyn's press release on the bill, "ensure that articles generated through research funded by that agency are made available online within six months of publication." These public access regulations would require each researcher who is funded totally or partially by the agency to submit an electronic copy of the finalized manuscript that has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agency will be responsible for preserving the manuscript in a stable, digital repository and must ensure free, online access to taxpayer-funded research no later than six months after it is published in a peer-reviewed publication. "Classified research and research that results in works that generate revenue or royalties for the author (such as books), or patentable discoveries to the extent necessary to protect copyright or a patent" would be exempted from the public-access policy.

Many non-profit science journals published by scientific and professional societies are concerned about how these public-access policies will affect subscriptions. A frequently asked questions document released by Sen. Cornyn's office states:

"This bill offers a thoughtful, tempered approach to meet a crucial policy goal of expanding access to the published results of taxpayer-funded research. The Federal Research Public Access Act explicitly acknowledges the publishers' contribution by providing for a public access embargo of up to six months. The six month embargo will preserve the important role of journals and publishers in the peer review process. This provision balances important interests and ensures that research is widely available while it still is useful.

"The proposed language applies only to federally funded research. This will provide access to a national research treasure. However, U.S. taxpayer funded research represents only a portion of all articles published around the world by scientific societies, commercial publishers, and others. Journals also publish non-federally funded research, valued review articles, editorials, news and views, letters, and opinion columns - literature that is not contained in federal public-access repositories. Journal readers will continue to seek access through their personal or library subscription to the full journal content."

S. 2695 was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, but there are no immediate plans to hold a hearing on the legislation at this point. A copy of Cornyn's press release and additional information on the bill is available at http://cornyn.senate.gov/index.asp?f=record&lid=1&rid=237171.

Senators Introduce New Yucca Legislation

On April 6, 2006, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) announced joint sponsorship of the Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act (S.2589), a bill drafted by the Department of Energy (DOE) to revitalize the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program. Provisions in the bill would "facilitate the licensing, construction, and operation of a repository at Yucca Mountain," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman wrote in a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney accompanying the bill.

One of the primary provisions in the legislation would remove the 70,000 metric ton limit on the amount of nuclear waste that can be stored in the repository. According to a 2002 Environmental Impact Statement, the site has the capacity to store 120,000 metric tons of waste. Without lifting the 70,000 ton cap, the repository will likely be oversubscribed as soon as it opens.

Further provisions in the bill would: remove 147,000 acres of land around the repository from public use to comply with Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing requirements; authorize construction of a rail line connecting Yucca Mountain with the national rail network; give DOE the authority to regulate the transportation of radioactive materials; reform the funding system to give DOE easier access to the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund; eliminate "essentially duplicative regulation" by exempting nuclear waste stored in NRC-certified containers from federal, state, and local regulation; authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to administer air quality permits; and ensure adequate water supplies for the nuclear waste activities.

DOE officials are optimistic that Congress will eventually pass the legislation. "We believe it is very important to get Yucca Mountain open so we can start moving waste from the communities all around the country where it exists," said Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell. "We're going to work with our congressional allies and supporters to get it passed as quickly as possible."

Despite sponsoring the DOE bill, Domenici is planning to introduce his own legislation on the repository, which he called three-fourths complete in early April. He is currently in the midst of conversations with Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), an opponent of the Yucca Mountain Project.

To view the text of the legislation, a summary and a sectional analysis of the bill, and the letter from Energy Secretary Bodman to Vice President Cheney, see http://www.energy.gov/media/Cheney-Yucca-package.PDF

Senate Budget Resolution Increases Science Funding, House Resolution Falls Short

The fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget resolutions recently considered by the House and the Senate contain significantly different potential spending levels for science. The budget resolutions, which serve as non-binding blueprints for the appropriations bills, are indicators of congressional reaction to the administration's budget request.

The Senate passed a budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 83) in mid-March that matches the President's request for increased science funding as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative. The resolution includes $26.1 billion for the General Science, Space, and Technology account, a $1.3 billion (5.2%) increase over FY 06 levels. It specifically states that science spending levels within the resolution "assume full funding of the President's request for the Department of Energy Office of Science, the National Science Foundation [and] NASA."

Budgetary action has been less promising in the House, however. On March 29th, the House Budget Committee passed a budget resolution along party lines. The resolution provides only $25.8 billion for the General Science, Space, and Technology account, $300 million less than the amount outlined for science programs in the President's request and the Senate budget resolution. The budget resolution went to the full House for a vote, however, after a week of debate on the floor, the House was unable to pass a budget resolution before the two-week Easter recess. Although House leadership plans to continue work on the resolution, no further action has been taken.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Holds Climate Conference

On April 4, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a day-long conference to gather feedback on the possible creation of a federal cap-and-trade carbon emissions policy. "Designing and implementing a mandatory system will be very difficult economically and politically," said Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) in his opening remarks. Nonetheless, he called the all-day conference a "starting point."

Four panels of experts from energy industries, environmental organizations, and government agencies shared their views on a number of issues, including the specifics of how a cap-and-trade policy should be designed, who should be regulated, whether regulation should be mandatory, whether emissions regulation should be "upstream" (targeting energy producers and suppliers) or "downstream" (targeting emitters), and whether the U.S. system should be designed to allow trading with other countries. Most panelists advocated a mandatory system that would apply throughout the economy rather than burden any one sector. A few industry representatives voiced opposition to a mandatory program, encouraging senators to focus instead on technology development, including clean coal plants and nuclear power generation. Other panelists agreed that technology development should be a key component of any emissions reduction policy, however without a mandatory policy many companies would choose not to take action.

Committee members expressed significant interest in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a voluntary but legally-binding carbon trading program. CCX is evaluated by independent auditors, who recently determined greenhouse gas emissions by CCX members are decreasing faster than expected. Michael Morris, President of American Electric Power, emphasized that CCX is attractive because it is voluntary yet maintains integrity by being legally binding and told senators that a CCX-like exchange "would work" on the national scale. "Voluntary action will lead this country in the right direction," he said. Domenici indicated that he will meet with CCX officials to learn more about the details of the exchange.

To read the Climate Change white paper that served as the basis of the conference, see http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=IssueItems.View&IssueItem_ID=33. To read the participants' responses to the questions in the white paper, see http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Conferences.Detail&Event_id=4&Month=4&Year=2006.

House Subcommittee Considers Levee Safety Act

The House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment received feedback from civil engineers and flood management experts on the National Levee Safety Program Act (H.R.4650) in an April 6, 2006 hearing. Introduced in December by subcommittee chair John Duncan (R-TN) and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), H.R.4650 authorizes an inventory, inspections, and assessments of all levees nationwide and provides incentives for states to develop individual levee safety programs.

While Army Corps of Engineers Major General Don Riley offered unqualified support for H.R. 4650, witnesses representing civil engineering, floodplain management, and stormwater management organizations voiced general support accompanied by a number of suggestions for improving the bill. Recommendations included seeking the input of local, regional, and state officials in the development of a federal levee inventory; linking the inventory with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) map modernization program; creating a flood management technical advisory committee composed of representatives from federal engineering and scientific agencies, flood managers, and emergency response officials; and expanding the scope of the legislation to include state, local, and private levees in the federal levee inventory and to require periodic levee inspections rather than a one-time inspection. Witnesses also told lawmakers that the $10 million per year authorized for levee protection would be insufficient to carry out all of the act's provisions. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) representative Dr. Peter Nicholson recommended adding $20 million per year for the first three years to fund the inventory development, bringing the total authorization to $120 million over six years. He noted that the President has included $20 million for the levee inventory in his fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request.

For Chairman Duncan's opening remarks, witness testimony, an extensive background section on the nation's levees, and information about H.R. 4650, see http://www.house.gov/transportation/water/04-06-06/04-06-06memo.html. For more information on recent legislation related to flood hazards, see AGI's new Flood Hazards page at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/flood_hazards.html.

House Resources Committee Holds Alternative Energy Hearing

On April 6, 2006, the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources heard testimony on developments in renewable and alternative energy resources on federal lands. Officials from the Navy, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior (DOI) presented lawmakers with details of their agencies' efforts to increase alternative energy use and development. Efforts at DOI are being concentrated in wind energy, concentrated solar power, geothermal power, biomass management, gas hydrates, oil shale and tar sands. At the Forest Service, the two focal points for renewable energy are hydropower and energy from biomass.

Wayne Arny, a deputy assistant secretary at the Navy, detailed Navy investments in wind, ocean, solar, and geothermal power, emphasizing the Navy's unique geothermal plant. Capable of producing 270 megawatt capacity of electricity, the plant is the only geothermal plant on Department of Defense (DOD) lands. Lawmakers were surprised to learn that although the plant is located on federal lands, it is owned by an independent private contractor, who gives the Navy a share of the revenue generated from the electricity sales. Arny explained that when the plant was built in the 1980s, the Navy could not legally own the electricity generated. The Navy's share of the revenue generated from the electricity sales is used for energy development, education, and management.

For the full text of witness testimony, see http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/109/emr/040606.htm.

Hazards Caucus Hosts Tornado Briefing

On April 5th, the Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on "Tornadoes: How They Form and How Well We Can Forecast Them." Representative Dennis Moore (D-KS) provided opening remarks on the importance of understanding tornadoes and protecting people from the hazards of tornadoes. The first speaker was Joshua Wurman, an atmospheric scientist and Director of the Center for Severe Weather Research, who talked about observing tornadoes up close to understand how and why they form. He described the use of mobile Doppler radar systems to provide more warning. Mark Tew, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Public Weather Warning Program, discussed improvements in forecasts and targeted tornado warnings. The last speaker was Greg Forbes, a meteorologist from The Weather Channel, who talked about how The Weather Channel uses information collected from government sources and their own models to warn to public about tornadoes in their area. He also discussed how the public gets information about severe weather and how they react to such warnings. Copies of the presentations of each of the speakers are available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/workgroup/briefings/tornado_briefing0406.html

White House Requests Comments on Federal Geospatial Data

The Federal government is requesting information from geospatial stakeholders on ways that the government can reduce costs and improve services to citizens. A Practitioners Day was held on April 18th. Comments are requested on lessons learned from groups that have overcome challenges related to a large geographically dispersed workforce, decentralization, multi-platform environments, legacy systems, and limited resources. These comments will be used to develop the Geospatial Line of Business that "will result in a more coordinated approach to producing, maintaining, and using geospatial data, and will ensure sustainable participation from federal partners to establish a collaborative model for geospatial-related activities and investments." Individuals and groups interested in submitting comments should respond to the Request for Information (RFI) questionnaire that is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/c-6-8-glob.html. Comments should be submitted by email by 5:00 EDT on May 5th to geospatial@gsa.gov.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake Conference and Commemoration

The Centennial Meeting of the Seismological Society of America, the 8th National Conference on Earthquake Engineering by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Disaster Resistant California and the Association of Bay Area Governments' General Assembly (ABAG) met in a joint conference in San Francisco on the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The theme of the joint conference was mitigating disaster in earthquake country. Over 3,000 geoscientists, engineers and emergency managers attended plenary, technical and policy sessions as well as field trips and tutorials. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addressed the conference in plenary sessions while the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction held a field hearing in connection with the conference. The subcommittee chairman, Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) focused on seismic risks in the San Francisco area and how to reduce risks in northern California and elsewhere. An interim report entitled "When the Big One Strikes Again - Estimated Losses due to a Repeat of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake" by Charles A. Kircher, Hope A. Seligson, Jawhar Bouabid and Guy C. Morrow was summarized and released at the conference. A PDF version of the report is available on the conference web site. Also available on the conference web site is a video that discusses what the next great quake will mean to northern California and what we should do to prepare now for impending earthquakes.

Conference schedule, report and videos are available at the conference web site: http://www.1906eqconf.org/

Planetary Science Institute Releases Survey Results on NASA Science Priorities

The Planetary Science Institute, with support from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, the SETI Institute and the Space Science Institute, has released the results of a survey of planetary scientists to prioritize research programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Participants were asked to rank the funding priorities for program types assuming flat funding for solar system exploration. The program types included the Research and Analysis Programs (e.g. Planetary Geology and Geophysics and Astrobiology programs), the small, competitively-selected missions (e.g. Discovery opportunities and Mars Scout opportunities), medium, competitively-selected missions (e.g. New Frontier mission opportunities), and large, flagship mission. Participants were also asked about weighing short-, medium-, and long-term research opportunities against each other. Nearly 73% of respondents agreed to the statement "A Flagship mission should be allowed if [Research and Analysis] is not affected, and it requires skipping only one or two Discovery opportunities and/or a New Frontier opportunity." The planetary science community will be using the survey results to encourage Congress to reinstate the suggested cuts in the President's NASA budget for Research and Analysis programs. Additional information on the survey results is available at http://www.psi.edu/~sykes/prioritysurvey/results.html

AGI's Geoscience Leadership Forum May 2006

The American Geological Institute in collaboration with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America held its annual Leadership Forum in Washington DC on May 1, 2006. The theme of the forum was "Communicating Geosciences to the Public". About 40 attendees representing 20 Member Societies discussed perceptions of geoscientists and geo-engineers, successful examples of communicating geosciences to the public and ideas to improve communications in the future. There were 8 speakers at the forum, including Harrison Schmitt (geologist and former Apollo astronaut and senator), Richard Kerr (Earth science reporter for Science Magazine), Judy Scotchmoor (former teacher and director of the Understanding Evolution web site), Yumei Wang (geotechnical engineer focused on natural hazards in Oregon), Brian Miller (Director of US Government and International Affairs in BP America's DC office), Sarah Andrews (geologist and author of a fictional mystery series about a geologist), Brian Tucker (Director of GeoHazards International) and Art Green (recently retired as chief geoscientist of ExxonMobil). A summary of the forum and the presentations of the speakers will be posted on the AGI Events web page in the near future.

Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences 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/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

DOEd: The Secretary of the Department of Education announced an upcoming open meeting of "A National Dialogue: The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education." The Commission will meet May 18-19, 2006 in Washington, DC. Additional information on the agenda and submitting comments is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/index.html. [Federal Register: April 4, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 64)].

DOI: The Minerals Management Service announces the availability of the proposed Notice of Sale for proposed Sale 200 in the Western Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf. Bid opening is currently scheduled for August 16, 2006. [Federal Register: April 4, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 64)].

DOI: The Minerals Management Service announced the release of an environmental assessment for proposed Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas Lease Sale 200 in the Western Gulf of Mexico. Public comments may be submitted using MMS's Public Connect on-line commenting system at http://ocsconnect.mms.gov. [Federal Register: April 4, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 64)].

White House: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the release of the planning document for the U.S. Ocean Research Priorities Plan and request for public comment. Additional information is available at http://ocean.ceq.gov/. [Federal Register: April 10, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 68)].

DOC: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the availability of the draft Prospectus for one of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Products for public comment. Additional information is available at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap3-3/default.htm. [Federal Register: April 12, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 70)].

New Updates to the Website

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:

  • Hearings on Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness (4-28-06)
  • Wetlands and Coastal Resources Policy (4-28-06)
  • High-level Nuclear Waste Legislation (4-27-06)
  • Great Lakes and Other Watersheds (4-27-06)
  • Hearings on Great Lakes and Other Watersheds (4-27-06)
  • Flood Hazards (4-24-06)
  • Action Alert: House Budget Resolution $300 Million Short of President's Request for NSF, NASA, DOE Office of Science (4-18-06)
  • Hearings on Flood Hazards (4-14-06)
  • Hearings on Energy (4-14-06)
  • FY2007 Department of Energy Appropriations (4-14-06)
  • FY2007 Appropriations Hearing Summaries (4-14-06)
  • Hearings on Global Earth Observations (4-14-06)
  • Climate Change Policy (4-11-06)
  • Action Alert: USGS Mineral Resources Program Threatened with 42% Cut (4-4-06)

Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Jenny Fisher 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Margaret Anne Baker, Government Affairs Staff..

Sources: 1906 Earthquake Conference, AIP FYI, Congressional Hazards Caucus website, Environment & Energy Daily, Federal Register, hearing testimony, Planetary Science Institute website, Senator John Cornyn's website, and White House Office of Management and Budget.

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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.

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

Posted May 4, 2006.