Monthly Review: May 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.
On May 19th the House passed a compromised $2.4 trillion budget for 2005 on a near party-line vote of 216-213. Unfortunately, there is no sign that the Senate will be able to do the same.
The budget serves as a guide for future tax and spending bills. This measure is less ambitious than either the budget that President Bush proposed earlier this year or previous versions of House and Senate spending plans for FY05. According to the Washington Post, to minimize disputes, Republicans limited its proposed tax and spending proposals to one year instead of the usual five or 10, leaving it without long-range plans for tasks such as tackling deficits, creating jobs or strengthening the military.
The House-passed budget would pave the way for tax cuts that are far more modest than what Bush proposed. Next year's deficit would be $367 billion - just below last year's $375 bill record high, and $4 billion more than what forecasters expect without the policies proposed within the legislation.
The budget does; however, bestow big boosts on defense and anti-terrorism programs, providing $421 billion for defense and another $50 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It increases domestic security by 15 percent to $31 billion while holding remaining domestic programs to $369, just $2 billion more than in FY04.
Now the budget resolution waits for Senate approval. After a month of negotiations, four Senate GOP moderates - Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island) and John McCain (Arizona) - are still threatening to vote against their party and against the bill. In March, these four Senators voted along with most Democrats to require offsets for all new tax cuts and entitlement spending. The House removed this procedural hurdle from the bill they passed but Senators Snowe, Collins, Chafee and McCain have shown no signs of backing down in order to pass the bill.
The House has already begun to allocate the budget and set maximum spending allowances for each of the 13 appropriations bills. According to the Budget Act of 1974, without a budget resolution in place 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.
AGI's website is constantly updated with budget and appropriations information. To access Congress' most recent actions on the FY05 budget, go to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2005.html.
On Tuesday, May 11th, the Senate approved the corporate tax bill, S. 1637, by a vote of 92-5. A $14 billion energy tax incentive package was also included in the bill in an attempt to pass at least some portion of the comprehensive energy bill that has been stalled in the Senate. Within two days of Senate passage, cost estimates for the energy tax package rose to $18 billion largely due to a renewable energy tax credit. Proponents say that the cost of the bill is completely offset by plans for fraud reduction, ethanol excise tax provisions, and repeal of export subsidies. The official Joint Tax Committee score of the bill has been pegged at $19.4 billion.
Since its passage, the bill has remained in flux. The House is crafting its own version of the $167 bill corporate tax bill and it may (or may not) have the energy tax package in tow. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) is expected to finalize his committee's version of the bill in mid-June. Greenwire has speculated that the House could vote on the tax package before the July 4th recess.
More information about Senate deliberations on S. 1637 is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html.
House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) and Ranking Member Pete Visclosky (D-IN) announced their intention to fund the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project at only $131 million next year. This amount would be a $749 million reduction from the budget requested by the Department of Energy. The Bush administration formulated its budget under the assumption that the $749 million needed by the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund for Yucca Mountain would be reclassified under new legislation allowing it to circumvent the appropriations process. The administration's reclassification scheme, however, failed with House and Senate appropriators and has left a major hole in the Yucca Mountain budget.
In an analysis of the effects this reduced budget would have on the program, Secretary of Energy Spenser Abraham told the subcommittee that Yucca Mountain staff layoffs would start in July and affect 70 percent of the Yucca Mountain workforce, which totals 2,400 people. The ability of the remaining workers to complete and submit the necessary license application due to Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the end of the year would be jeopardized, he said. He also stated that the cutbacks would cause an "indefinite delay" in the planned 2010 opening of the site.
This scenario would delay the removal of the nuclear waste from temporary storage facilities in several states and complicate the future disposal of waste generated by nuclear power plants in 33 states. Abraham predicts that the federal government could be required to pay some states enormous sums of money if waste is not removed by dates specified in contracts. Over 65 breach of contract claims have already been filed in Federal Claims Court by utilities as a result of delays.
In related news, scientists demonstrated at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this month that casks designed to hold radioactive nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain may not be sufficient. Rocks surrounding the metal casks may release small amounts of mineral-rich water that will eventually corrode the cask within 1,000 years, according to Nevada officials who sponsored the demonstration. Scientists showed that the minerals in the water could corrode Alloy-22, the metal used to make the casks, in as little as twenty minutes after contact. They also showed that the water in the rocks above the casks can move through the rocks and boil from the heat produced by the spent fuel, leading to increased chance of corrosion. Other groups such as the Nuclear Energy institute claim that the casks will last 2 million years.
You can visit http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/locations.html for a map of current storage facilities and a discussion of nuclear waste storage. AGI continues to monitor and chronicle Yucca Mountain at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/yucca.html.
On May 12th, twenty-five national organizations concerned with science and engineering education released a statement calling for a change in U.S. visa policy that is currently impeding foreign scientists who wish to attend foreign professional meetings and is seen as limiting international cooperation. The statement says that the current visa system is inefficient and creates the "misperception that the United States does not welcome international students, scholars, and scientists." The organizations made six recommendations: extension of visa security clearances, increased efficiency of the renewal and fee payment processes, creation of an enquiry mechanism for visa status, and improved consistency of visa application reviews. The statement contends that improving relationships with international scholars is beneficial to the U.S. economy and to national security efforts.
The statement is available online at http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2004/0512visa.pdf.
The U.S. National Commission on Ocean Policy (NCOP) released its preliminary recommendation last month that included expanding the role of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to become the lead agency in ocean management for the nation. In response to NCOP's recommendations, Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ) introduced H.R. 4368, the Weather and Oceans Resources Realignment Act, on May 13th. This bill would shift NOAA from the Commerce Department to the Department of the Interior.
In making its recommendations, NCOP acknowledged the "political complexity associated with any reorganization of the executive branch agencies." The House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans is likely to hold a hearing on the bill in June despite doubts that any final decisions regarding H.R. 4368 or the NCOP report will be made by the end of the legislative session this year.
More information on the NCOP report is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/oceans.html.
In related news, the House Resources Committee convened on May 20th to discuss the draft report of the U.S. NCOP. Ret. Admiral Watkins, Chairman of the commission, presented an overview of the report and addressed the concerns of committee members. The report claims that the oceans are in declining health that will likely have a damaging effect on national and coastal economies. Watkins stated that ocean-related problems are systematic, and that the federal government must agree to the entire policy and administrative overhaul outlined in the report if positive change is to be made.
A thorough hearing summary is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/ocean_hearings.html.
The House of Representatives continued to debate the potential impact of the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS) on national interests. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the LOS treaty on February 25th, however, discussion in the House International Relations Committee featured both strong proponents and opponents of LOS treaty ratification. William H. Taft IV, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Department of State, and Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Vice Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy, both testified in support of ratification. They maintained that ratification would promote stability of the oceans, U.S. mobility, and national security. Opponents to ratification included Baker Spring, an F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy with the Heritage Foundation. He cites lack of sovereignty, unnecessary limitations on the exploitation of resources, international taxation potential, and risks to national security as reasons not to agree to LOS provisions.
More information about the Law of the Sea treaty is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/lawofthesea.html and http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/lawofthesea_hearings.html.
On May 19th, the House Science Subcommittee on Energy met to examine the potential contribution of energy efficiency and renewable energy to the nation's energy needs. Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) and several of the witnesses, all experts in a field of efficiency or renewable technology, emphasized that these technologies are likely to improve quality of life at sustained or lowered energy consumption levels. Testimony of the witnesses provided a description of the current state of efficiency and renewable technologies and their impacts on the economy. Witnesses unanimously recommended increased federal investment in the research and development of these technologies. They cited environmental and health benefits, lower predicted operating costs of industry, lower natural gas prices, and increased competitiveness in global technology markets as benefits of efficiency investments.
Documents related to the hearings are still available on the House
Science Committee website at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/energy04/index.htm.
A wrap-up of the hearing can be found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_hearings.html#may19.
The House Science Committee Subcommittee on Energy met on May 20th to discuss H.R. 3890, a bill to reauthorize the Metals Program at the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill was introduced by Melissa Hart (R-PA) in March in an effort to ensure continued funding of the DOE program that works with the metals industry in the research and development of efficiency technologies. The newest version of the bill includes provisions to help industries reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In her opening statements, Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) said that the Metals Program has economic, environmental, and national security benefits. The subcommittee and the witnesses agreed that energy efficiency should not be the only goal of the program. They all said that new technologies should provide direct and indirect benefits to taxpayers and increase industry success.
A thorough recap of the hearing is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_hearings.html.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water
Resources and Environment held two hearings to discuss Great Lakes
water quality and restoration. Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-TN)
said that he hopes agencies who work on the Great Lakes projects make
significant progress in ensuring restoration and do not simply revisit
past issues. This month, the Bush administration issued an executive
order to create an EPA-led task force to coordinate Great Lakes restoration
and water quality improvement. More information is available at http://www.house.gov/transportation/.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) held a briefing sponsored by several Members of Congress on May 21st to illustrate the effectiveness of the Cooperative Water Programs in groundwater management. Jess Weaver, USGS Regional Executive for Water in the Southeast Region, outlined some of the major water issues in the nation, emphasizing that groundwater availability is becoming a more serious concern for eastern states. He said that cooperative programs between the USGS and local and regional authorities have increasing reliance on non-USGS cooperators because of stagnation in the USGS budget. Other speakers included Randy Young, Executive Director of the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, and David Word, Assistant Director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
A wrap-up of the briefing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/water_resources.html.
In a May 14th briefing sponsored by the Water Environment Federation,
USGS, and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), national and regional coordinators
of the National Water Quality Assessment Program presented findings
of several regional water quality assessments carried out between
1991 and 2001, and emphasized the contribution of the findings to
state Environmental Protection Agency offices and other local operations.
NAWQA recently released the final 15 of its 51 comprehensive reports,
which together indicate that "the nation's waters generally are
suitable for irrigation, drinking-water supply, and other home and
recreational uses . . . [although] in areas of significant agricultural
and urban development the quality of our nation's water resources
has been degraded by contaminants." The assessments found that
contaminants and their effects are controlled by a complex set of
both human and naturally induced factors such as land use, chemical
use, urbanization, geology, and hydrology. Both urban and agricultural
areas have widespread contamination at overall low levels, and each
area is unique. The topics of nutrient enrichment, agricultural chemicals,
well water contamination, relationship of water quality to urbanization,
and bioaccumulation of mercury are the focus of the 11 million records
compiled in the reports. Only 42 of the 51 areas studied will be revisited
for continuing assessments due to budget constraints, according to
Tim Miller, Chief of the USGS Office of Water Quality.
Disagreement between internal agencies in Russia has delayed the country's decision on whether to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Energy and Industry Agency supports the treaty, while the Academy of Sciences contends that the treaty lacks scientific evidence and will be harmful to the Russian economy. European Union leaders and Russian president Vladimir Putin struck a deal May 21st to allow Russia into the World Trade Organization, which European leaders will most likely use as leverage to pressure Russia to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Russia is the only country besides the United States that has the potential to fulfill the threshold for signatories to account for 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
In other climate change news on the domestic front, debates on climate change and emissions control may be sparked in Congress next month by the sensationalized film "The Day After Tomorrow," which was released on May 28th. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Leiberman (D-CT) introduced a bill addressing greenhouse gas emissions, S. 139, in October, but it was rejected in a surprisingly close vote of 43-55. McCain says he will attempt to propose the bill again by the end of the current session in the form of an amendment to anther bill, and says of the film: "We'll use any publicity we can get." Several groups, such as Move On PAC, who support the McCain-Leiberman bill will use the blockbuster popularity of "The Day After Tomorrow" to aid their lobbying efforts by handing out flyers in theaters. Some opponents of the bill, such as National Petrochemical and Refiners Association president Bob Slaughter, want to make sure that the public understands the fictional elements of the film and doubt that it will carry much weight. Senator Landrieu (D-LA), one of the ten key Democratic senators who voted no on the bill in October, has definitively said she will change her vote to yes when it is reintroduced this summer. Experts disagree about how much impact the film will have on the public's interest in the McCain-Leiberman bill.
Updates on climate change legislation currently pending in Congress can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html.
Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) and Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research Brian Baird (WA) held a briefing and released a General Accounting Office (GAO) report on May 19th shining a light on the federal government's staffing of scientific advisory committees. The report was issued due to recent allegations from Rep. Harry Waxman (D-CA) and groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists who have accused the Bush administration of manipulating scientific information and abusing the appointment process of federal science positions. The GAO report does not evaluate these claims but rather outlines recommendations to improve and ensure the balance of federal science advisory committees and the transparency of the appointment process. It suggests clarifying the distinction between employees who are selected to committees for their expertise and those who are known to have a bias. The report also outlines what types of information should be gathered systematically and suggests additional processes to evaluate candidates for the positions. Johnson and Baird also sent a letter to President Bush that can be found at www.house.gov/science_democrats/member/johnson_baird_letter.pdf.
The report is available online at www.gao.gov/new.items/d04328.pdf.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a point-by-point document standing by the report and letter issued to the Bush Administration in February. The report, Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making, accused the administration of misusing scientific information to promote its agenda. Dr. John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, issued a rebuttal in April. The new UCS document states that Dr. Marburger's rebuttal "often offers irrelevant information and fails to address the central point of many of the charges in the UCS report." Dr. Marburger's statement can be viewed at www.ostp.gov. The UCS rebuttal can be viewed at http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/page.cfm?pageID=1393.
A National Academies of Science committee is developing a report called Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments (3rd Edition). The committee is seeking input from those in the science and engineering communities regarding the presidential appointment of scientists, engineers, and health professionals to positions on federal advisory committees and in the federal government. A list of topics that the committee will be exploring and additional information can be found at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/presidentialappointments/Statement_Task.html. Responses should be limited to three pages and are due July 1, 2004. The report will be issued in November.
The National Science Board (NSB), responding to Congressional requests,
released a list ranking proposed NSF Major Research Equipment projects
in order of funding priority. The National Ecological Observatory
Network is second on the list, after the Scientific Ocean Drilling
Vessel. The NSB white paper defining the priority-setting process
for competing research facility projects is online at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2004/priorstnglrgefcltyproj.doc.
Like the other curriculum areas, the most noticeable difference in the new Science Quality Core Curriculum is the presence of new performance standards. The curriculum is trimmed down with the expectation that students will be given the opportunity to achieve scientific literacy, while also giving students the necessary tools to be successful at the next level of their educational career. The most radical change in the curriculum is moving Earth Science to sixth grade and Physical Science to eighth grade. Georgians felt that Physical Science is very abstract and includes rigorous mathematics. Therefore, eighth graders who have experienced more mathematics courses and have two more years of cognitive development, have a better chance for success and mastery in Physical Science than sixth graders do.
In regard to the teaching of evolution, the Earth Science education standards state: "During middle school, several lines of evidence are further developed. The fossil evidence can be expanded beyond extinctions and survivals to the notion of evolutionary history. Sedimentation of rock can be brought in to show relative age. However, actual age, which requires an understanding of isotopic dating techniques, should wait until high school, when students learn about the structure of atoms. Breeding experiments can illustrate the heritability of traits and the effects of selection. It was familiarity with selective breeding that stimulated Darwin's thinking that differences between successive generations can naturally accumulate." There is no mention of Intelligent Design or "alternative theories" in the revised standards.
Evolution in the Classroom Reports Released
Bridget Martin, an AGI/AIPG Summer 2004 intern arrived at AGI on May 10th. She is currently a senior at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She is majoring in geology with a comparative politics minor. Bridget has worked as an intern for the Dutchess County Soil and Water Conservation District, at an organic farm in Montana and as a page in the Montana State Senate. She has also participated in the Presidential Classroom program and we are pleased to welcome her for the summer.
The AGI/AAPG Spring Semester intern, Gayle Levy, departed AGI on
May 6th. She has taken a position as the Outreach Specialist at the
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and will
begin in late May. We wish her all the best in this endeavor and are
forever in her debt for her patience, reliability and superior work
this spring. Thanks, Gayle.
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.
USGS requests public comments on guidelines for providing appropriate access to geospatial data in response to security concerns. Comments must be submitted by June 2, 2004. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by postal mail to FGDC HSWG Guidelines Review, 511 National Center, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Virginia 20192. Volume 69, Number 85 (3 May 2004): p. 24182.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Defense; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Interior; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Agriculture; Department of Transportation request comments on "Draft Physical Stream Assessment: A Review of Selected Protocols for Use in the Clean Water Act Section 404 Program". Comments must be postmarked or e-mailed on or before June 28, 2004. Send comments to: email@example.com (E-mail) or Palmer Hough, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wetlands Division (4502T), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20460. Volume 69, Number 94 (14 May, 2004): pp. 26823-26824.
DOE, Office of Fossil Energy gives notice that during March 2004, it issued orders granting authority to import and export natural gas, including liquefied natural gas. These orders may be found on the FE Web site at http://www.fe.doe.gov. Volume 69, Number 95 (17 May, 2004): pp. 27906-27907.
USGS, Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee meeting, June 3-4, 2004. FedEx Institute of Technology, campus of the University of Memphis, 365 Innovation Drive, Memphis, Tennessee 38152-3115. Volume 69, Number 96 (18 May, 2004): p. 28143.
Executive Order of the President for the establishment of Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and promotion of a regional collaboration of national significance for the Great Lakes. Volume 69, Number 98 (20 May, 2004): pp. 29043-29045.
DOI, Minerals Management Service gives notice of extension of a currently
approved information collection (1010-0114). Submit written comments
by July 20, 2004. Volume 69, Number 99 (21 May, 2004): pp. 29324-29327.
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 Bridget Martin, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern.
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chronicle of Higher Education, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, House of Representatives hearing testimony, Las Vegas Sun, NASULGC Washington Update, National Academy of Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission website, THOMAS legislative database, U.S. Geological Survey publications, United States Senate hearing testimony, Washington Post
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted June 10, 2004