Monthly Review: April 2008
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.
The Census Bureau had planned to modernize the 2010 census, sending workers out with hand-held devices to collect information from the millions of Americans who do not return the Bureau’s paper forms. Unfortunately, technical challenges such as data transmission problems, as well as communication problems between the Census Bureau and Harris Corporation, the outside contractor tasked with the technology upgrade, have caused Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez to revert to the old paper format.
According to Gutierrez, the change in course will cost an additional $2.2 to $3.0 billion in funding. The administration is seeking legislative authorization to reprogram $33 million within the Census Bureau in fiscal year (FY) 2008 as well as the transfer of between $166 million and $233 million from other Commerce Department divisions, which include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) the transfer plan would remove $27 million from NOAA’s FY 2008 budget.
Early estimates also indicate an additional $600 to $700 million is needed in FY 2009, and rather than seeking emergency funding to address the shortfall for the constitutionally-mandated census, the administration plans to alter its FY 2009 request to stay within the President’s overall spending levels, but specifics on this plan have not been made public as the Commerce Department is working toward more concrete estimates. The large increase in funding needed by the Census Bureau will probably force the Commerce Department to take funds away from other agencies in FY2009 and beyond. NIST and NOAA are likely to lose some much-needed funding over time and it remains unclear how the “pain” from the census funding fiasco will be distributed across the Commerce Department.
To read Secretary Gutierrez’s full testimony before the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee visit: http://www.commerce.gov/NewsRoom/SecretarySpeeches/PROD01_005468
On April 29, 2008, the House passed the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (S.2739) by a vote of 291 to 117. The Senate passed the measure earlier this year and it now moves to a final vote by Congress and then to the President for his signature to become law. The bill provides a myriad of specific provisions regarding land conveyances, park boundaries, studies, memorials, commissions and park protections. Two more general items of note for the geoscience community is a section on cooperative agreements for national park resource protection and the establishment of a network of advanced energy technology centers.
The cooperative agreements would be between the Secretary of the Interior and ” State, local, or tribal governments, other Federal agencies, other public entities, educational institutions, private nonprofit organizations, or participating private landowners” to protect natural resources within national parks. The agreements must demonstrate “science-based natural resource stewardship”.
The advanced energy technology centers were in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the new bill amends some of the details related to these centers. The Secretary of Energy will make grants to “nonprofit institutions, State and local governments, cooperative extension services, or institutions of higher education” to operate programs that “encourage demonstration and commercial application of advanced energy methods and technologies through education and outreach to building and industrial professionals, and to other individuals and organizations with an interest in efficient energy use.”
The full text of the legislation is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c110:3:./temp/~c110nRcI9m::
Congress reached a compromise on a $300 billion, five-year farm bill to re-authorize key agriculture, conservation, energy and nutrition programs within the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on April 28. The President sharply criticized the measure in an April 29th speech on energy and it remains unclear whether Congress can reach resolution on changes demanded by the administration and some members before the latest short-term extension of the 2002 farm law expires on May 2.
The key issues are costs and crop subsidies. The administration wants to limit crop subsidies to farmers who make less than $200,000, while Congress provides subsidies for higher-income farmers and landowners. Another major hurdle is the overall cost of the bill, which is partly attributed to the subsidies. The original bills started at $280 billion in the House and $285 billion in the Senate. However in order to reach a compromise and garner enough votes to pass the farm bill, additional funding has been added for some key programs, while the subsidies have been left relatively untouched and thus remain controversial.
About $10.3 billion has been added for nutrition, primarily food stamp and school lunch programs, in an effort to address the rising cost of food and its impact on lower-income families. About $4 billion has been added for conservation programs, including more funds for the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program. About $372 million of the $4 billion would be provided for a new Chesapeake Bay program. Both additions are meant to help gain more support from members of Congress, who may not support farm subsidies, but do support these other programs.
Another important compromise reached on April 28th is related to the $1.5 billion in tax incentives in the bill. Subsidies for corn-based ethanol would decrease, such that the current 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit would drop to 45 cents and a new subsidy of $1-a-gallon would be included for cellulosic ethanol. This is a big shift for corn-belt legislators and shows how a majority of lawmakers favor greater focus on non-corn-based ethanol for future energy resources.
Unfortunately, none of the additional funds are directed toward agricultural research. This combined with the drastic decline proposed in the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget for USDA research programs casts a shadow over agriculture research. The Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), which funds extramural research would be cut by 16 percent in the FY 2009 budget and the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's intramural research arm would decrease by 10 percent.
The short-term extension expires on May 2 and it is unclear if another extension will be granted to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees or if party leaders will push for a long-term extension of current law.
On April 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine S. 1870, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007. The legislation, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and co-sponsored by 20 senators, would replace the phrase “navigable waters” throughout the Clean Water Act (CWA) with the term “waters of the United States.”
A comprehensive ocean policy bill, H.R. 21, the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century or the “OCEANS Act” was passed out of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee on April 23 by an 11-3 vote.
The legislation originally introduced by Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) formally establishes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been operating by executive order since 1970. It also implements a number of other recommendations from the United States Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission, including the establishment of a national oceans advisor for the President; a federal advisory committee on ocean policy; the designation of certain ocean regions for ecosystem-based management and establishes a regional ocean partnership for each region.
Ocean policy advocates have been pursuing comprehensive reform for three years and the passage of the OCEANS Act by the subcommittee represents the furthest the legislation has progressed. The bill now will have to undergo examination by the full committee. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate lessening the likelihood the measure will be enacted this Congress.
Full text of the bill can be accessed at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.21:
On the eve of a United Nations meeting in Paris on the next steps the world economies should take to deal with climate change, President George W. Bush outlined the administration’s approach for the United States. In a Rose Garden speech on April 16, 2008, the President called for a national goal to stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
To reach this new goal he suggested the following:
The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Interagency Coordinating Committee has developed a five-year strategic plan which “outlines a cooperative program of earthquake monitoring, research, implementation, education, and outreach activities performed by the NEHRP agencies”. The agencies include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The draft plan which has three long-term comprehensive strategic goals, plus 14 related objectives is open for public comment. The three overarching goals are: 1) to improve the understanding of earthquake processes and impacts, 2) to develop cost-effective measures to reduce earthquake impacts on individuals, the built environment, and society-at-large, and 3) to improve the earthquake resilience of communities nationwide. The draft plan as well as instructions for the submission of comments which are due by 5 p.m. EST May 9, 2008, can be accessed at: http://www.nehrp.gov/plans/publiccomment.htm.
Texas: On April 24, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board unanimously denied certification of the Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) master’s degree in science education. Board members agreed that a program based on the creation of the Earth as described in the Bible was not adequate preparation for the resulting graduates to teach middle school and high school science courses. The ICR has 45 days to appeal the board’s decision or 180 days to resubmit a revised proposal for consideration.
Florida: A group of scientists, including Nobel laureate Harold Kroto, urged Florida lawmakers to reject the “Academic Freedom Act,” a bill that could allow teachers to discuss religious beliefs in the science classroom, at event in Tallahassee. But on April 23, the Florida state Senate passed the measure by a vote of 21-17. Proponents of the legislation say it is about preserving first amendment rights for teachers, but opponents stand firm that it is just a backdoor to the teaching of creationism in the science classroom. The legislation was filed in response to the state Board of Education’s decision to include evolution in the revised science standards. The Florida House is scheduled to take up a more stringent version of the bill next month that will require teachers to present creationism as an alternative to evolution in the science classroom.
Louisiana: On April 17, the Senate Education Committee passed legislation that would allow teachers to use state-approved “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” and would provide teachers with guidance on “effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories." The language of the legislation focuses on “teaching the controversy, “meaning it allows the teaching of religious beliefs in the science classroom.
Missouri: On April 1, a bill similar to the “America Freedom Act,” legislation promoted by the Discovery Institute, the home of intelligent design, was introduced in the state legislature. The text of the bill calls on teachers “to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies," and allows teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution." Again, the legislation opens the door to the teaching of religion in the science classroom by claiming there is controversy over the acceptance of evolution.
Applications are now being accepted for participation in the Earth Science Literacy Initiative (ESLI) funded by the National Science Foundation. The two-week online workshop aims to create the basis of a document that will describe the concepts and principles of Earth science that all Americans should know. ESLI will be incorporated with complimentary efforts in the Oceans, Atmospheres and Climate communities, to form a larger geoscience Earth Systems Literacy effort.
The workshop will occur May 12-24, 2008 with participants committing about an hour per day to the online effort. Research scientists and post-secondary educators are especially encouraged to participate. Although the number of participants will be limited the entire Earth science community can observe the process, just by signing up. For more information about ESLI and to apply, please visit:
This month the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released a report entitled “Boosting Productivity, Innovation, and Growth through a National Innovation Foundation.” The report recommends the establishment of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), “with the sole mission of promoting innovation” to help keep America competitive in a technology-driven and knowledge-based global marketplace.
The report details the loss of innovation leadership experienced by the U.S. citing declines in the percent of U.S. gross domestic product devoted to research and development, the number of new patent applications by Americans, the number of scientific publications authored by Americans, and the number of college degrees in science and engineering awarded in the U.S. since the mid-1980s. It also highlights the limitations of existing federal policy to spur innovation at the scale needed for the U.S. to regain leadership stating that “federal innovation programs that do exist operate in an ad hoc manner” and “treat innovation as a byproduct of other goals.”
The report suggests three different organizational options for the NIF, proposing an annual budget of $1 billion for the agency. According to the authors NIF would:
The full report can be accessed at: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2008/04_federal_role_atkinson_wial.aspx
Join us for the first Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD) on September 9-10, 2008. This two-day event brings geoscientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for the geosciences. Participants will spend the first day learning about how Congress works, the current state of the budget process and how to conduct congressional visits. The second day will consist of visits with members of Congress. In addition to the workshops and visits, participants will get to meet other geoscientists, and federal science agency representatives. Help us make the first Geo-CVD a success and convey the value of the geosciences to policymakers.
Congressional Research Service
The Disparity Between Retail Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Prices, <http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34431_20080331.pdf> Posted April 6, 2008. The report outlines the factors effecting diesel prices and why diesel, which has been historically lower in cost compared to gasoline has soared above.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve: History, Perspectives, and Issues, <http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33341_20080214.pdf> Posted April 7, 2008. Many lawmakers object to the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) with the current cost of fuel. This report provides background on the SPR including the establishment of the SPR, how the reserve is filled and the debate surrounding it.
DOC- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is planning to update and revise its Guidelines for the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) after five years implementing the program under these guidelines. This notice invites interested parties to provide comments or suggestions to NOAA for consideration in updating the CELCP guidelines. Comments on the CELCP guidelines are requested by June 9, 2008. The current Guidelines for the CELCP can be found at: http://www.coastalmanagement.noaa.gov/land/media/CELCPfinalo2Guidelines.pdf
EPA- The Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is making available for public review and comment two draft documents. The first document is titled “Risk and Exposure Assessment to Support the Review of the NO2 Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard: First Draft.” The title of the second document is “Risk and Exposure Assessment to Support the Review of the NO2 Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard: Draft Technical Support Document (TSD).” The purpose of these draft documents is to convey the approach taken to assess exposures to ambient NO2 and to characterize associated health risks, as well as to present the results of those assessments. Comments on the above reports must be received on or before May 30, 2008. These documents are available online at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/nox/s_nox_cr_rea.html.
EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing the availability of a final report titled, “Application of Watershed Ecological Risk Assessment Methods to Watershed Management” (EPA/600/R-06/037F), which was prepared by the National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) within EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD). The report is available at http://www.epa.gov/ncea. The report provides guidance for assessing risks associated with watershed management.
DOC- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces a 45-day public comment period for the draft report titled, U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 1.3 “Re-analyses of historical climate data for key atmospheric features: Implications for attribution of causes of observed change.” Comments must be received by May 29, 2008. The report and details for making comments can be accessed at: http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap1-3/public-review-draft/sap1-3draft-invite.htm. Comments must be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org
EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office is soliciting nominations for consideration of membership on EPA's Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis (Council), EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), and EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its Standing Subcommittees. Nominations should be submitted in time to arrive no later than May 19, 2008. Nominations should be sent to: email@example.com.
DOA- The Forest Service announces a final rule on the National Forest System (NFS) land management planning framework. The intended effects of the rule are to strengthen the role of science in planning; to strengthen collaborative relationships with the public and other governmental entities; to reaffirm the principle of sustainable management and to streamline and improve the planning process by increasing adaptability to changes in social, economic, and environmental conditions. This rule is effective April 21, 2008. For more information visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/2008_planning_rule.html.
ED- The Department of Education (ED), Office of Postsecondary Education announces a funding opportunity within the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) for fiscal year 2008. The MSEIP is designed to effect long-range improvement in science and engineering education at predominantly minority institutions and to increase the flow of underrepresented ethnic minorities, particularly minority women, into scientific and technological careers. Applications are due May 22, 2008 and must be submitted electronically at http://www.Grants.gov. Application packets and further information can be found at by searching the CFDA Number 84.120 at http://www.Grants.gov.
DOC- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces a 45-day public comment period for the draft report titled, U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2: “Best practice approaches for characterizing, communicating, and incorporating scientific uncertainty in decision-making.” The draft Synthesis and Assessment Product: 5.2 is posted on the CCSP Web site at: http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap5-2/default.php. Detailed instructions for making comments on this draft report are provided at the CCSP link. Comments must be prepared in accordance to these instructions and must be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org by June 9, 2008.
NSF- The National Science Foundation (NSF) gives notice of the request for public comment on a draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The OOI, a multi-million dollar Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction effort intends to put moored and cable infrastructure in discrete locations in the coastal and global ocean. Comments must be submitted on or before May 16, 2008. The draft PEA is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/geo/oce/pubs/OOI_Draft_EA_4_08.pdf . Comments can be submitted electronically to PEAemail@example.com
DOC- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces the availability of the draft NOAA Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Project Plan for public comment. The plan is being developed to reflect the evolution of NOAA's research activities and priorities; it frames research in NOAA within the context of societal needs and by working with other government and academic organizations working on critical environmental challenges, particularly those associated with hurricanes, facing the United States today and in the future
Sources: E& E Daily, Politico, Hearing testimony, earthscienceliteracy.org, Brookings Institute, Greenwire, Houston Chronicle, Orlando Sentinel, The Times-Picayune, National Center for Science Education
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted April 30, 2008.