Monthly Review: May 2005
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.
Appropriations Round-up: House Passes Budgets for Energy,
Interior, and EPA
The House of Representatives made quick work of several spending bills this month, including appropriating budgets for the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Budgets for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) also advanced through their first mark-up in the House subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce Appropriations.
This year, agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the USGS, are competing for funds with the EPA under one spending bill. According to a report in Environment and Energy Daily, appropriators said that the new jurisdictional reconfiguration of among appropriations subcommittees made it harder for them to restore funds that were cut in the President's budget request without offsetting funds in other controversial programs. As a consequence, the House was unable to restore the $240 million cut that had been requested for EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Overall, the committee was able to restore about half of the Administration's proposed $450 million cut to the EPA, including the restoration of long-standing congressional earmarks and minor boosts to the Office of Science and Technology and the Environmental Programs and Management account.
The Department of the Interior received a total of $9.8 billion, including $974.6 million for the USGS, which is a 4% increase from the fiscal year (FY) 2005 enacted level. The increase keeps the Mineral Resources Program funded at its FY2005 level of $54 million, removing the proposed 53% cut, and keeps the Water Research Institutes funded at its FY2005 level of $6.7 million, rather than being terminated as requested.
The House Energy and Water Appropriations bill included $24.5 billion for the Department of Energy, essentially equivalent to the President's proposal. The committee expressed support for DOE's oil and gas research program, funding the programs at a total of $62 million instead of eliminating the programs as proposed. The committee also cautioned the Office of Fossil Energy to improve the quality and effectiveness of these programs, noting the low assessments it received from the White House. In the bill, the House committee also expressed disappointment with the numerous setbacks plaguing the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository permitting process, and recommended that DOE store nuclear waste in designated interim storage sites and consider developing a second repository.
NSF received an additional $171 million from the House subcommittee, although this would still leave its total budget of $5.64 billion below the FY2004 enacted levels. NOAA would receive a reduction of $152 million below the Administration's request, bringing its total budget to $3.43 billion, more than 10% below the FY 2005 level. NASA would be funded at $16.5 billion, including $906 million to restore the aeronautics program and $40 million to partially restore proposed cuts to NASA's science programs. These budget changes may face further modifications as the Science spending bill progresses through the House of Representatives.
Due to the fight over judicial filibusters and other major bills making their way through the Senate, the Senate appropriators have yet to approve any spending bills. Also in the coming months, the House and Senate will ultimately have to resolve their dissimilar spending strategies, which derive from differences in the number and purview of appropriations subcommittees. For instance, the spending bill for NSF, NASA and NOAA also incorporates the budget for the State Department in the House, whereas it does not in the Senate; this and other discrepancies may impede the passage of separate spending bills in a timely fashion and may eventually lead to an omnibus.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert offered an amendment (200) to the House fiscal year (FY) 2006 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (H.R. 2419) that would delay appropriation of funds for ITER, the international burning plasma fusion research project, until after March 1, 2006. The delay would allow Congress to determine how the DOE, the fusion science community and the President would propose paying the $1 billion U.S. contribution to this international project before the U.S. has to sign any agreements. There is concern in the House about a lack of funds to pay for such a large project within the domestic fusion science program of DOE or additional concerns about possibly trying to shift funds from other parts of DOE. The amendment was passed on voice vote and the full text of the amendment is stated below.
"None of the funds made available by this Act [the FY 2006 Energy
and Water Development Appropriations bill] may be used before March
1, 2006, to enter into an agreement obligating the United States to
contribute funds to ITER, the international burning plasma fusion
research project in which the President announced United States participation
on January 30, 2003." - House Amendment 200 to H.R. 2419
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee completed a two-week mark-up of the Senate Energy bill on May 26, 2005 and approved the legislation by a near-unanimous vote of 21-1. In a press release, Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) stated that the bill "does more for conservation and efficiency than Congress has done before," and "[goes] further to diversify our energy supply and employ innovative technologies." Throughout the mark-up, committee members from both sides of the aisle expressed their gratitude to Senator Domenici for working closely with ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (NM) to form bipartisan legislation.
Casting the single dissenting vote was Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR),
who told reporters that his vote was against "cars, carbon, and
corn." As it stands now, the bill does not call for an increase
in auto fuel efficiency standards, fails to directly address global
climate change, and according Wyden, gives unnecessary subsidies and
incentives to conventional and ethanol fuel production without adequately
promoting other renewable energy resources.
Most of the bill's major sticking points, including the controversy over access to offshore resources, will either resurface or make their debut on the Senate floor. Among these issues are the 8 billion gallon ethanol standard approved by the committee, which promises to spark controversy as it is 3 billion gallons higher than the renewable fuels standard approved in the House bill. Floor debate will also determine the outcome of disputes over fuel economy standards, renewable portfolio standards, and the degree of authority given to federal regulators in siting liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.
It is unclear when the Energy bill will reach the Senate floor following the Memorial Day recess. Before consideration, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee must also complete work on the bill's nuclear security provisions, and the Senate Finance Committee must approve a title that defines $11 billion in energy tax breaks and incentives.
For more information, read our energy policy overview.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a $140 billion asbestos trust fund bill (S. 852) on May 26, 2005. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) formally introduced the bill in April, after months of trying to resolve disputes among Republicans and Democrats regarding the size of the fund, how to compensate victims with diseases related to asbestos inhalation, and how to provide fair compensation for spouses. Voting on the bill had been further delayed by the fight in the Senate over President Bush's judicial nominations in mid-May. After seven mark-ups, the bill was finally approved by a bipartisan vote of 13-5. All of the panel's Republicans backed the bill, plus ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.), and Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI). Asbestos-related personal injury lawsuits have flooded courts for the past two decades. This bill would take the claims out of the court system by compensating victims directly from the $140 billion fund created by manufacturing and insurance company payments.
Due to the size of the trust fund, the bill is expected to spend
a significant amount of time on the Senate floor. Specter predicts
that the bill will be backed by President Bush and supported on the
floor by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ),
John Cornyn (R-TX), and Tom Coburn (R-OK), who voted in favor of the
bill in the committee, have stated that they will vote against the
bill on the floor if it is not revised. For more information, visit
On May 17, 2005, the House Science Committee passed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "organic act," (H.R. 50), which would, for the first time, define and codify NOAA's core mission and functions. Since its creation by executive order in 1970, NOAA has been operating without the guidance of a congressional mandate, limiting the agency's ability to provide authority and leadership in ocean science research and resource management.
According to Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the bill "will do more than merely found NOAA in law It will raise the profile of science at NOAA and improve its management."
After approving the bill, the Science Committee handed H.R. 50 off to the Resources Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries, who began its consideration of the bill at a hearing on May 19th. So far, H.R. 50 only establishes core functions and management structure for the programs under the Science Committee's jurisdiction, including science and technology research, education, and weather prediction activities. Although subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) expressed urgency to pass the bill, tackling NOAA's resource management responsibilities may prove more contentious, as Congress and the Administration currently disagree on how specific or prescriptive these mandates should be. As of yet, no movement on a NOAA organic act has been detected on the Senate side.
For more information, please read the full
A subcommittee of the White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy (OSTP) has publicly released its report
on "Science and Technology to Support Fresh Water Availability
in the United States". The report attempts to answer the question,
"Does the United States have enough water?" According to
subcommittee chair and USGS Assistant Director for Water Bob Hirsch,
the short answer is "We don't know." Hirsch describes the
report as an examination of "what is known about our nation's
fresh water supply, what we don't know about it, and the ramifications
of our current state of knowledge. It also describes high-priority
science and technology efforts needed to provide adequate information
for decision makers and water managers." White House Science
Advisor John H. Marburger III said the report "provides a clear
statement of need for coordinated science and technology efforts to
understand the supply, human demand, and environmental requirements
for fresh water in the United States."
On April 7, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures
(ESFRI) presented the European Commission with its first "List
of Opportunities". Launched in April 2002, ESFRI consists of
25 representatives from the European Union member states and a representative
of the European Commission. The role of ESFRI is "to support
a coherent approach to policy-making on research infrastructures in
Europe, and to act as an incubator for international negotiations
about concrete initiatives."
At the spring 2005 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New
Orleans, Don Gurnett, a space physicist from the University of Iowa
announced that Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock in December,
2004. Voyager 1 is now about 94 astronomical units (AU) or more than
8.7 billion miles from the sun. The termination shock marks a boundary
of rippling plasma near the edge of the solar system where the solar
wind meets the interstellar medium. Ed Stone, Voyager project chief
scientist and professor of physics at the California Institute of
Technology described the boundary and the mission, "The solar
wind creates a bubble (the heliosphere) around the sun, and near the
edges of the bubble is a place where the solar wind piles up as it
encounters the interstellar wind,
We think the sun is currently
in a phase where the heliosphere is shrinking. If so, Voyager would
continue to be in this thicker and hotter region until it reaches
the heliopause, the outer edge of the bubble. This is a wonderful
opportunity to reach interstellar space, and we hope we can keep the
spacecraft operating through the year
About 40 academic, scientific and engineering organizations issued
on May 18, 2005 that acknowledges reforms taken to improve the visa
system since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and recommends
further improvements for foreign students and scientists. They made
the following recommendations: (1) Extend the validity of Visas Mantis
security clearances for international scholars and scientists from
the current two-year limit to the duration of their academic appointment.
(2) Allow international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers
to renew their visas in the United States. (3) Renegotiate visa reciprocity
agreements between the United States and key sending countries, such
as China, to extend the duration of visas each country grants citizens
of the other and to permit multiple entries on a single visa. (4)
Amend inflexible requirements that lead to frequent student visa denials.
(5) Develop a national strategy to promote academic and scientific
exchange and to encourage international students, scholars, scientists,
and engineers to pursue higher education and research opportunities
in the United States.
District of Columbia
Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History has agreed to allow the Discovery Institute to rent the Baird Auditorium for $16,000 to show their movie, "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe". The Discovery Institute is an association that supports "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. The film is a documentary based on a 2004 book with the same title by Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer from Iowa State University and Jay W. Richards, a theologian and vice president of the Discovery Institute. The book argues that Earth was designed for multicellular life and only Earth has the right combination of minerals and elements for life. The book supports the intelligent design movement and many in the scientific community were surprised to see such support for this movement at the museum.
Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman told the New York Times that staff members viewed the film before approving the event to make sure that it complied with the museum's policy, which states that "events of a religious or partisan political nature" are not permitted, along with personal events such as weddings, or fund-raisers, raffles and cash bars. It also states that "all events at the National Museum of Natural History are co-sponsored by the museum." Some proponents of intelligent design have used this last statement to suggest that the Smithsonian Institution is becoming more open to the idea of intelligent design; a claim that Kremer denies.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and other scientific societies, including AGI, are preparing an Amicus Brief for the Cobb County textbook sticker appeal. Stickers warning that evolution is a theory in biology textbooks were declared unconstitutional and the Cobb County school board was told to remove the stickers from the textbooks. Cobb County has appealed this decision and the appeal will be held in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in June. The societies as amicus curiae or friends of the court argue in the brief that "The scientific community does not qualify evolution as theory not fact and it is therefore unnecessary to do so in the public schools. There is no valid scientific or pedagogical reason for such a disclaimer, which is contrary to the best advice of the scientific community."
The brief must be filed with the court by June 8, 2005 and additional information about the brief will be posted on the NCSE website.
More information about the Cobb County Stickers is at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/GA.html
The Kansas State School Board held six days of hearings on a minority report requesting changes in the Kansas Science Standards. The hearings were boycotted by scientists because they were not viewed as a credible discussion on science curricula, but instead an opportunity for those in favor of the teaching of intelligent design to attract more publicity for their cause. There was limited coverage of the hearings in the media after the first day. The hearings did not resolve the differences between the 8 committee members, who wrote a minority report, and the 18 members who wrote the majority and approved report. More details about the hearings and its aftermath in Kansas is available from the NCSE website.
Google Inc. of Mountain View CA is working on a new project called "Libraries in Print" that has generated complaints from non-profit academic publishers about potential copyright and licensing infringements. The 6-month old "Libraries in Print" project will scan copyright-protected books from the Harvard, Stanford and University of Michigan libraries and public domain materials from the New York Public Library and the Oxford Library in England to gather data for the online search engine.
The Association of American University Presses sent a letter to Google on May 23, 2005 expressing concern about copyright and licensing infringements and the adverse effects of the project's free content on publishers' abilities to sell books and other materials. They also asked Google to respond to a list of 16 questions seeking more information about how the company plans to protect copyrights. Two unnamed publishers have already asked Google not to scan their copyrighted material, however, Google has refused to honor this request.
The situation is complicated because the three libraries that agreed to allow Google to scan their copyrighted materials also have associated book publishing companies. These three university publishers are unlikely to consider a lawsuit against Google over copyright infringement. In addition, federal law considers the free distribution of some copyrighted material to be permissible "fair use" and Google has told the academic publishers that its library program meets these criteria.
Google is facing additional challenges to the information they are providing in other projects. "Google News," a section that compiles news stories posted on thousands of websites, is being sued for $17.5 million in damages by the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, for illegally infringing on its copyrighted material.
"Google Scholar", a search tool of scholarly publishing
that provides bibliographic details of published scientific papers,
has also raised concerns within the scientific community about copyright
infringement and the potential for lost revenues and readers.
To raise awareness of the increasing importance of federal support for physical science research and its implications for the future of U.S. industry, jobs and national security, Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) announced plans for an innovation summit. The summit is scheduled to occur during the fall of 2005 and will be supported by funds provided in the recently enacted fiscal year 2005 Supplemental Appropriations bill.
Representative Wolf recently stated, "America's dominance in the science and innovation is slipping. We are facing today a critical shortage of science and engineering students in the United States. Unfortunately, there is little public awareness of this trend or its implications for jobs, industry or national security in America's future. We need to make sure we have people who can fill these science and engineering positions. Since 1980, science and engineering positions in the U.S. have grown at five times - FIVE TIMES - the rate of positions in the civilian workforce as a whole. We need to make certain that America continues to be the innovation leader of the world America's advantage in science is slipping."
Representatives Wolf, Boehlert, and Ehlers are working to raise the
visibility of this important issue and they are counting on scientific
societies and trade associations to help plan for the innovation summit.
Reps. Wolf, Boehlert, and Ehlers have also called for significant
increases in NSF's budget. Rep. Wolf has publicly stated that NSF's
budget should be tripled and is encouraging the White House to request
far greater funds for NSF in its fiscal year 2007 budget proposal.
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education (STEM) Caucus kicked off its activities in the 109th Congress with a briefing on May 17, 2005 in the Senate offices. Sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association, the briefing featured talks by experts in science and engineering education, who addressed various challenges facing the STEM fields. Also appearing at the briefing were Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who each expressed enthusiasm about the Caucus' potential to generate innovative policy ideas and renewed public excitement about science and engineering education.
The STEM Caucus is a collaboration of Congressional members who strive
to promote policies that strengthen STEM education in K-12 education
as well as higher education institutions and the workforce. The Caucus
believes that proficiency in scientific and mathematical principals,
computer systems and problem solving is crucial for keeping up with
the pace of a global economy driven by technological innovation. Representatives
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Mark Udall (D-CO) co-chair the House STEM
Caucus, which has been in existence for the past few years and includes
over 35 other members. In the Senate, Norm Coleman and Richard J.
Durbin (D-IL) co-chair their own STEM Caucus, which formed for the
first time on February 2, 2005. In a letter they sent inviting their
fellow Senators to join the Caucus, Coleman and Durbin expressed their
strong belief that America's economic strength and national security
are being threatened by inadequate education in science, math and
On May 26, 2005, the American Meteorological Society's (AMS) Policy Program launched an Environmental Science Seminar Series on Capitol Hill with a session on "Declining Mountain Snowpack in Western North America: Implications for Water Resource Management in the Western U.S." The seminar series is a part of a larger program intended to engage non-scientific professionals with scientists to develop mutual understandings about some of the nation's most pressing environmental policy issues.
At this first seminar, two of the nation's leading experts in the hydrology and climate gave presentations that focused on climate change science from a "risk management" perspective. Phil Mote, a research scientist at the University of Washington as well as Washington's state climatologist, broke down recent studies showing how declining snowpack is caused by atmospheric warming and will likely affect peak annual stream flow timing, winter flooding, and an increased threat of erosion and forest fires. Soroosh Sorooshian, a Distinguished Professor at University of California-Irvine and a member of the American Geophysical Union's Public Policy Committee, addressed a range of factors that are complicating water resource management in western states, including warming, population growth, the region's water balance, consumption rates, dam capacity, and aquifer overdraft.
Upcoming seminars on hurricane resiliency and peak oil production
are currently planned for June and July. Visit the AMS
website to learn more or to get involved.
The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) announced on May 12, 2005 that it is working with the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History, the Department of Agriculture, and other organizations to design a $4 million soil exhibit projected to open in 2008. As part of the Forces of Change program, the Smithsonian Soils Exhibit will feature a collection of state soil monoliths on long-term loan from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and a temporary 6,000 square foot interactive exhibit for demonstrations and hands-on activities. Tentative themes include: Soil as Life, Soils Support Organisms, Medicine from Soils, Food from Soils, Soils in Cultural History, Role of Soils in the Environment, and Careers in Soil. The temporary interactive exhibit will also travel to other museums and libraries, possibly through a partnership with the American Library Association, targeting underserved and urban areas.
Thanks to all who participated in the 10th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) events on May 10-11, 2005. AGI hosted 12 participants, who were joined by another 10 participants from AGU and visited 35 Congressional offices to raise visibility and support for federal investment in science and engineering. After a day of presentations on the proposed fiscal year 2006 budget for federal geoscience programs, our visitors spent a day sharing their concerns and expertise with representatives, senators and their staff from 10 states.
Among our visitors, Dr. David Bieber, President of the Association of Engineering Geologists and an expert on natural occurring asbestos, became a valuable contact to members of the California delegation, particularly to staff in the office of Senator Feinstein (D), who was busy in a mark-up of the asbestos trust fund bill. Wayne Pennington, a geophysicist at Michigan Tech University, offered Michigan delegates special insight into the direct benefits of federal R&D programs in university science education. During an introductory breakfast on the morning of the visits, Mike Jackson, a geologist from Earthscope, was able to talk with Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) about the Plate Boundary Observatory project that is underway in Inslee's home state.
The overall CVD event is sponsored every year by the Science-Engineering-Technology
Work Group, an information network comprising professional, scientific
and engineering societies, higher education associations, institutions
of higher learning, and trade associations. The two-day event is a
great opportunity for any scientists, engineers, researchers and educators
to speak with their representatives on Capitol Hill about the importance
of the sciences. If you are interested in attending future CVD events,
please visit the CVD
Our first AGI/AIPG summer intern, Amanda Schneck, arrived at AGI on May 16th, a day after graduating from Susquehanna University, a small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania. While at Susquehanna, she received a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Mathematics. She has studied abroad in Australia, completing a semester at Melbourne University and a field camp at James Cook University, where she studied depositional processes related to Rainforest and Reef environments. Amanda's experiences this summer will hopefully guide her as she pursues a Master's in environmental policy from Bard College. While at Bard she will complete a 2+ year Master's project through the Peace Corps. We are very pleased to welcome Amanda to AGI for the summer.
Anne Smart joined the Government Affairs Program on May 31st as the
second of this summer's AGI/AIPG Interns. She is a junior at Miami
University in Oxford, Ohio. While double-majoring in Environmental
Studies and Public Administration, Anne has assessed energy conservation
methods at her school for a Provost report and is currently working
on a thesis focused on the peak oil crisis. As a resident of Bel Air,
Maryland, Anne has previously interned in the district office of Representative
Wayne T. Gilchrest. Another valuable addition to our staff, we are
very happy to have her.
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/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
DOE: On March 24, 2005, the Department of Energy published Interim Final General Guidelines governing the Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program. After announcing that the closing date for receiving public comments on both documents would be May 23, 2005, several organizations requested that the comment period be extended to allow additional time for understanding and preparing written comments on the Interim Final General Guidelines and draft Technical Guidelines. The Department has agreed to extend the comment period to June 22, 2005. Written comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to Mark Friedrichs, PI-40; Office of Policy and International Affairs, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20585. [Federal Register: May 9, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 88)]
NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
proposed to amend its regulations governing the licensing of private
Earth remote sensing space systems under Title II of the Land Remote
Sensing Policy Act of 1992. The proposed amendments updated the regulations
that reflect the new U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy issued
in April 2003. The proposed amendments will allow NOAA to more effectively
license Earth remote sensing space systems and help to ensure their
compliance with the requirements of the Act. [Federal Register: May
20, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 97)]
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 Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, and Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Sources: Hearing testimony, Library of Congress Documents, House
Resources Committee website, Department of Energy documentation, nasawatch.com,
Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Triangle Coalition Electronic
Bulletin, National Center for Science Education Website, Washington
Post, New York Times.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted June 3, 2005.