Monthly Review: May 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.
Members of Congress Continue Push for NSF Doubling
As reported in a May 15th Action Alert, Reps. Vern Ehlers and Nick Smith, both Michigan Republicans who chair subcommittees of the House Science Committee, have circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to encourage their fellow members of Congress to sign a joint statement in support of increased funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The statement, which had more than 150 signers, was sent to Reps. James Walsh (R-NY) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF. Last year, President Bush signed into law a bill that authorized doubling the NSF budget over the next five years. In order to remain on this doubling path, signatories to the statement requested that NSF be funded at $6.39 billion for fiscal year 2004. The House and Senate Appropriations committees will begin crafting their bills in the coming weeks. The list of signers and a copy of the letter is available at http://www.cnsfweb.org/Ehlers-dearcolleague-apr03.html. Geoscientists are encouraged to look for their representative on the list and express their thanks for the strong support of science. The original AGI alert can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/nsfletter_alert0503.html.
On May 8th, the House Science Committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI) noted that NEHRP has contributed significantly towards improving the nation's understanding of earthquakes. But he and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) critically reviewed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) role as the lead NEHRP agency, especially with the agency's recent move into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Lofgren questioned whether FEMA is the best lead agency for NEHRP, and Smith suggested that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) might be a more appropriate lead, or perhaps a rotating directorate. FEMA representative Anthony Lowe, who was the lone federal witness, responded that because DHS is an all-hazard agency, NEHRP is now "more at home than ever." He added that earthquake mitigation activities, such as improving building codes, have also increased protection from terrorist activities. At the start of his testimony, Lowe unveiled a newly released strategic plan for NEHRP covering the years 2001 to 2005 -- dates reflecting the plan's actual completion two years earlier. The delay in releasing the plan further concerned the subcommittee with regard to FEMA. Declining funding for NEHRP, which has fallen 40% in real dollars since the program was initiated in 1978, also received attention at the hearing. Lofgren was especially troubled that the USGS's Advanced National Seismic System has only been funded at about 10% of its authorized amount. She suggested to Smith that they send a letter to the appropriators calling for improved funding to assure the proper resources for NEHRP. A summary of the hearing with links to testimony is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/nehrp.html. For additional commentary on the hearing, please see the Political Scene column in the June 2003 issue of Geotimes -- "Congress Re-examines Earthquake Policy" -- at http://www.geotimes.org/june03/scene.html.
A statement by the newly reconstituted NEHRP Coalition was submitted for the hearing record with AGI and member society Seismological Society of America among the signatories. It can be viewed as a PDF document at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/NEHRP-coalition-statement.pdf. The statement was developed by the American Society for Civil Engineers, emphasizing the importance of NEHRP and the need for stronger support. The statement also endorsed the goals set forth in a recent report by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute entitled "Securing Society Against Catastrophic Earthquake Losses." The report, the goals of which were endorsed by AGI's Executive Committee, is available on the web as a PDF file at http://www.eeri.org/research/Research%20Plan%200503%20low%20res.pdf.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) resumed her fight to ban all asbestos-containing products by reintroducing her Ban Asbestos in America Act (S. 1115) this month. Asbestos was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1989 as a carcinogen when inhaled, but the rule was overturned in the courts. S. 1115, in addition to banning asbestos, would require the EPA to conduct a public awareness campaign about asbestos; invest in research, tracking, and treatment of asbestos diseases; and issue a study into expanding regulation beyond the six currently regulated forms of asbestos identified by the National Academies and an EPA blue-ribbon panel. Murray introduced her bill the day after the EPA launched a national consumer awareness campaign to warn homeowners not to disturb vermiculite attic insulation, as it may contain small quantities of asbestos. Disturbing the insulation could release asbestos fibers into the air, exposing homeowners. While Congress and the EPA continue to consider how best to protect consumers from asbestos exposure, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) proposed legislation aimed at settling the skyrocketing cost of asbestos-related litigation. His proposal would create a $108 billion trust fund and award compensation based on a set of medical criteria recently established by the American Medical Association. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/asbestos.html.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began a series of hearing this month to review water resource issues. At a May 7th hearing, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment heard testimony regarding H.R. 135, a bill that seeks to establish the Twenty-first Century Water Commission for the purpose of developing a national comprehensive water strategy. Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN) noted that the water commission is not intended to impose on state water rights but to provide federal expertise and technical assistance to the water problem. Witnesses and subcommittee members were supportive, with suggestions mostly aimed towards the ultimate goal of the commission. The Interstate Council on Water Policy recommended broadening the commission's focus to more than water supply acquisition and development to include conservation, including alternative strategies such as water reuse and reclamation, desalination, and surface and groundwater conjunctive use. On May 22nd, the subcommittee held a hearing on water supply in the face of increasing demand. Witnesses from local municipalities, agriculture, and industry testified on the increasing occurrence of water shortfalls. There was consensus that previous attitudes toward water as a ubiquitous resource have led to poor planning and the current water supply problem. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/water_hearings.html.
On May 30th, federal and state agencies released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the coal-mining practice commonly referred to as mountaintop removal. The 5,000 page EIS was prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Surface Mining, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Recommendations from the report aim to reduce the adverse environmental impact to streams and local ecosystems of mountaintop removal, which is used primarily in Appalachian coal mining. The report also emphasizes the need for federal and state agencies with oversight to work cooperatively in order to improve the characterization, mitigation, and planning of mountaintop mining's effects on local streams. The agencies are seeking public comments on the EIS report and recommendations until August 29, 2003. Comments can be submitted and additional information obtained at http://www.epa.gov/region3/mtntop/index.htm.
Two key resignations in the Bush Administration were announced this month. White House Office of Budget and Management (OMB) Director Mitch Daniels will leave at the beginning of June -- some believe that he is leaving OMB to seek the Indiana governor's mansion in 2004. Daniels has been responsible for many of the Bush Administration's budget priorities and is known on Capitol Hill for confronting lawmakers in order to limit congressional spending. On May 22nd, President Bush announced Joshua Bolten will serve as the new OMB Director. Bolten is currently White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Two day earlier, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman handed in her resignation to President Bush, citing the desire to return to her family in New Jersey. In her resignation letter, Whitman notes some of the accomplishments of the EPA under her watch: "I am pleased that the EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our Nation's treasured environment." Whitman's replacement has not yet been announced.
On May 10th, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill restoring the State Board of Education's absolute control over textbook content. Previous legislation had diminished the board's power, which it has often used to censor or modify textbooks, including successful efforts last year to remove mention of the age of the Earth from social studies textbooks. Due to the size of the Texas textbook market, the state's decisions exert considerable influence over publishers and the national textbook marketplace. The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Education. One state to the north, the Oklahoma Educator Protection Act was finally defeated a month after the Oklahoma House of Representatives attached an amendment to the legislation requiring a disclaimer in all public school science textbooks that discusses evolution. After being sent back to the State Senate, the amendment was approved, but a vote on the entire bill failed 23-17 on May 12th because it lacked the 25 votes required for a simple majority of the full Senate (there were a number of abstentions). Sen. Scott Pruitt (R), author of the legislation, quickly moved for the vote to be reconsidered, which failed to get the necessary majority by one vote. More on these developments at http://www.ncseweb.org and http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html.
On a related note, at the end of May, AGI staff participated in an Evolution Education Activists Summit jointly sponsored by the National Center for Science Education and the University of California's Museum of Paleontology. Held in Berkeley, the meeting brought together leaders from state-based groups promoting science education to learn from shared experience.
This month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received a review from the National Research Council (NRC) on the agency's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grant program. In 1995, the EPA created the STAR program as an independently reviewed, competitive research grant program aimed to attract the nation's best scientists and engineers into the environmental science field. The goal of the program is to produce high-quality, relevant research that can aid the agency's decision makers. The NRC report concluded that the STAR program plays an important role within the EPA, producing a strong research base for the agency to keep up with the ever-changing and increasing environmental problems that society faces. Although the NRC committee that prepared the report felt it is too early to fully evaluate the long-term importance of the STAR program, they concluded research supported by the program has already aided the EPA decision-making process. The committee also concluded that the STAR program needs to make better use of external experts from academia, the private sector, federal agencies, state, tribal, and local governments in order to assist in areas that the agency does not have adequate internal expertise. The committee made a recommendation that the STAR program's funding be increased to 15-20% of the EPA's Office of Research and Development's annual budget. A copy of the NRC report, "The Measure of STAR: Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's STAR Research Grants Program," is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10701.html.
On May 22nd, the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses, the Sustainable Energy Coalition, and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute held a congressional briefing on geothermal energy technologies and resource potential. The briefing emphasized geothermal energy as an underutilized resource with large environmental benefits when compared to conventional energy sources. According to the speakers, new technologies can enhance geothermal systems by increasing the saturation and permeability of the rocks and by extracting energy from lower temperature systems. But the high initial cost, mostly stemming from drilling of the wells, remains a major hindrance towards widespread use. To help bring new geothermal facilities on-line, Karl Garwell, Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association, recommended that the tax credit offered to wind facilities should be expanded to also include geothermal energy. In addition, Garwell recommended increasing access to federal land, revising the Geothermal Steam Act, increasing support for the Department of Energy's Office of Geothermal Energy, and a new geothermal resource assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.
AGI is accepting applications for a staff associate position in its government affairs program. Major duties and responsibilities include monitoring and analyzing legislation and policy developments on geoscience-related issues, updating policy information on the AGI website, handling logistics for internship and fellowship programs, and fostering information flow between the geoscience community and policymakers. The preferred candidate will have a background in the geosciences; outstanding writing, verbal, and organizational skills; experience in public policy; and familiarity with Web publishing. More information on the position and how to apply at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/joblisting.html.
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 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. 87 (6 May 2003):
p. 23941-23947; Vol. 68, No. 87 (20 May 2003): p. 27514-27516 and
27473-27278; Vol. 68, No. 102 (28 May 2003): p. 31615-31620.
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 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Charna Meth, Margaret A. Baker, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Deric Learman, and David Applegate.
Sources: Briefing presentations, Coalition for National Science
Funding, E&E News, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire,
Hearing testimony, Library of Congress, Minneapolis Star Tribune,
National Center for Science Education, National Research Council,
Oklahoma Legislature web site, Sen. Patty Murray web site, and Washington
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted June 5, 2003