Monthly Review: May 2006

This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

Status of Appropriations: Advancing in the House and Stagnant in the Senate

The House was busy in May with fiscal year 2007 appropriations. They passed 4 of 11 appropriation bills, including the Interior and Environment, and Related Agencies bill on May 18th, the Military Quality of Life/Veterans Affairs bill on May 19th, the Agriculture bill on May 23rd, and the Energy and Water bill on May 24th. The Senate, after passing their version of a budget resolution with relative ease in mid-March, has not initiated any congressional activity on their 12 appropriation bills as of the end of May.

a. U.S. Geological Survey
The House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 5386) recommended a fiscal year 2007 budget for the U.S. Geological Survey of $991.5 million, a $20.8 million increase over the fiscal year 2006 enacted levels and a $46.7 million increase over the President's request. Funding for the Mineral Resources Program and the Water Resources Program would be fully restored relative to suggested cuts in the President's request. The Geographic Research, Investigations and Remote Sensing would received a $2 million increase over the President's request for the AmericaView cooperative geographic program, while the Geologic Hazards, Resources and Processes would received a $1.5 million increase over the President's request for Florida shelf research and hurricane science research in the USGS Florida's office. Within the Enterprise Information activity, the committee recommended an additional $2 million to expand and integrate the geospatial one-stop program. The committee also recommended an additional $5 million above the budget request to make up for past fixed costs. The House must now wait for the Senate to complete their own appropriations bill and then the bills must be reconciled to determine the final budget for the U.S. Geological Survey.

b. Department of Energy
For the Department of Energy fiscal year 2007 appropriations (H.R. 5427), the House recommended a total budget of $24.373 billion, about $327 million more than the fiscal year 2006 enacted level and $299 million more than the President's request. The bill would fully fund the President's American Competitive Initiative request for a 14 percent increase for the Office of Science and the President's Advanced Energy Initiative for increased funding for clean energy technologies, including hydrogen, solar, wind and clean coal.

Within the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs, the bill would terminate the Geothermal Technology activity ($23 million in fiscal year 2006) without comment and also would terminate funding for the state energy activities (about $49.5 million in fiscal year 2006) because the committee believes this money is going to state employees for salaries, meetings and travel rather than applied research and technology transfer. The bill would increase the budgets of the Vehicle Technologies, Building Technologies and Industrial Technologies activities above the President's request. These activities promote partnerships and technology transfer between research and industry to increase energy efficiency.

Within the Office of Fossil Energy, the bill would terminate the Natural Gas Technologies activity ($20 million in fiscal year 2006) and would provide only $2.7 million for the Petroleum Oil Technologies activity ($33 million in fiscal year 2006). The committee noted that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes $50 million in mandatory spending for oil and gas research and therefore these other activities do not need funding. The $2.7 million in the Petroleum Oil Technologies activity would be divided between $1.5 million for the Stripper Well Consortium and $1.2 million for the states Risk Based Data Management System, two activities the committee did not believe were covered by the funding provided in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Clean Coal Power Initiative would receive an increase of $36.4 million over the President's request and the Fuels and Power Systems activity also would receive an increase of $25 million over the President's request.

The Office of Science would receive a $30 million increase over the President's request, which already included a 14% increase for Science related to the American Competitiveness Initiative. The total budget would increase by $535 million over the fiscal year 2006 enacted level.

The bill would provide $150 million for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a new initiative on recycling spent nuclear fuel, which was highlighted in the President's request, but received a lukewarm reception in the House because the details of the initiative are not well defined. Thus the spending request is $96 million below the President's request, but at the level authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative.

The committee was also unhappy about the Yucca Mountain repository taking a back seat to GNEP and concluded: "Therefore, the Committee supports a more modest effort on GNEP, continued emphasis on Yucca Mountain and renewed emphasis on the provision of centralized interim storage." With that, the bill requests $544.5 million for Yucca Mountain, about $37.9 million more than the fiscal year 2006 enacted level and an increase of $30 million above the President's request specifically for interim waste storage.

The House must now wait for the Senate to complete their own appropriations bill and then the bills must be reconciled to determine the final budget for the Department of Energy.

Details of all of the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2007 are available at:

Offshore Natural Gas Drilling Rejected in Interior Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee voted on May 10, 2006, to remove a long-standing ban on offshore natural gas drilling. The committee voted 37-24 to include the amendment, which was introduced by Representative John Peterson (R-PA), in the 2007 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 5386). Originally enacted in 1982, the ban on coastal drilling covers the east and west coasts of the U.S. as well as the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. It has been renewed by Congress every year during the appropriations process. Peterson's amendment would lift restrictions on offshore natural gas drilling but maintain limitations on offshore oil drilling. The language in the legislation is similar to language Peterson introduced last year to a bill in the House Resources Committee.

On May 18th, the full House rejected Peterson's amendment to H.R. 5386 and reinstated the natural gas offshore drilling ban. Florida and California representatives cited a threat to tourism when opposing the measure, saying that wells could be placed within three miles of the coast. "It's a grievous assault on Florida and other [coastal] states," said Representative Adam Putnam (R-FL). This argument overshadowed the call for more energy supplies to reduce high energy prices. Putnam sponsored an amendment (H.AMDT.856) on the House floor to reinstate the ban, which passed 217-203.

House Resolves to Consider a Different Budget Than the Senate

The House passed a budget resolution on May 18, 2006, after an unexpected impasse in April. A House budget resolution (H.Con.Res.376) was passed on a vote of 218 to 210 and members later voted to consider the resolution "deemed" by Congress, that is, approved by both chambers, even though, the House resolution is very different from the Senate resolution. The two chambers are unlikely to confer about their differences and will probably not try to pass a joint resolution any time soon. The House resolution, which is non-binding, calls for a cut of $10.3 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal year 2007 and about $167 billion in reductions in discretionary spending over the next 5 years. The House resolution would equal the total discretionary spending of $873 billion requested by the President, however, it would transfer $7 billion from other areas of the budget to meet other essential discretionary spending needs. This compromise on the discretionary spending cap probably helped to ensure enough votes for passage. The unusual difficulties in passing a House budget resolution typifies the tight fiscal times and the trade-offs being debated about cutting discretionary spending, cutting taxes, reducing the deficit, reducing entitlements and paying for the war on terrorism and natural disaster relief through emergency supplementals.

The Senate resolution (S. Con. Res. 83) added about $16 billion more in discretionary spending than the President's request. In particular the Senate resolution includes $26.1 billion for the General Science, Space, and Technology account, a $1.3 billion (5.2%) increase over fiscal year 2006 levels and enough funding to fully support the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, which includes an 8% increase for the National Science Foundation). By contrast the House resolution only provides $25.9 billion for the General Science, Space, and Technology account, which may not cover the President's requested increases for science. The House report (H.Rept.109-52) on the science funding states, "the committee assumes robust funding for the American Competitiveness Initiative". The House is likely to consider the Commerce, State, Justice and Science appropriations among the last of its 11 bills and this may mean that fewer avenues of compromise may be available to meet the requested increases for science

Update on Response to Public Access Legislation

As reported in AGI's April 2006 Monthly Review, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, on May 2, 2006. The legislation would require all federal agencies with research budgets of more than $100 million to develop and implement a public access policy. The policy would require a researcher who receives funding from an agency for any part of the published research to submit an electronic copy of the accepted manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal. The accepted manuscript should be submitted within 6 months of publication. In response to the introduction of this legislation, which is now being considered by the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, many associations, organizations and scientific societies have submitted letters to Congress and/or issued press releases in opposition or support of the bill.

The Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers opposes the legislation and issued a press release on May 9, explaining their reasons. According to Dr. Brian D. Crawford, chairman of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP-PSP), and a Senior Vice President of the American Chemical Society: "The Cornyn-Lieberman bill would create unnecessary costs for taxpayers, place an unwarranted burden on research investigators, and expropriate the value-added investments made by scientific publishers-many of them not-for-profit associations who depend on publishing income to support pursuit of their scholarly missions, including education and outreach for the next generation of U.S. scientists. If enacted, S.2695 could well have the unintended consequence of compromising or destroying the independent system of peer review that ensures the integrity of the very research the U.S. Government is trying to support and disseminate."

A coalition of libraries, including the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association issued a press release on May 2 in support of the legislation. The press release states that "Enhanced public access to publicly funded research spurs innovation and competition by accelerating research, sharing knowledge, improving treatment of diseases, and supports the educational enterprise."

The full text of the AAP-PSP press release is available at:

The coalition press release and additional information about the public access legislation is available on the Association of Research Libraries web site at:

More Competitive Science Education and Research Bills Introduced

Three bills introduced on May 11, 2006, in the House provide specific funding for science, math and engineering education related to the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The Early Career Research Act (H.R. 5356) awards research grants to scientists early in their careers; the Research for Competitiveness Act (H.R. 5357) awards grants to foster research partnerships with industry, and the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act (H.R. 5358) contains policy changes along with grants to improve science and mathematics education.

More information about these bills and other legislation introduced in Congress related to the National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" and/or the President's American Competitiveness Initiative are available from AGI's Government Affairs web page on Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness at

Science Achievement Results from NAEP 2005

In 2005, more than 300,000 fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-grade students from both public and private schools were assessed in science by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - also known as "the Nation's Report Card." The science assessment contains multiple-choice and short-answer questions on topics related to the Earth, physical and life sciences. Results, released on May 23, 2006, show that science achievement in the United States has improved for elementary school students over the past decade but has remained unchanged for middle school students and declined among high school students. Comparisons of the 1996, 2000 and 2005 student performance level results are listed below.

Fourth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 63%; 2000 - 63%; 2005 - 68%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 28%; 2000 - 27%; 2005 - 29%

Eighth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 60%; 2000 - 59%; 2005 - 59%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 29%; 2000 - 30%; 2005 - 29%

Twelfth Grade:
Percent Scoring At or Above Basic Level: 1996 - 57%; 2000 - 52%; 2005 - 54%
Percent Scoring At or Above Proficient Level: 1996 - 21%; 2000 - 18%; 2005 - 18%

NAEP results are also presented in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, national school lunch recipients, parents' educational level, students with disabilities and English language learners. Male students continue to outperform female students in science at all three grade levels, while minority students are making some progress in science at grades 4 and 8 based on increasing scores since 2000. Average scores of fourth- and eighth-graders eligible for free/reduced-price school lunches also remain below the average scores for students who are not eligible, emphasizing the negative role that poverty plays in student learning.

"Policymakers and industry representatives are concerned about national competitiveness in an increasingly technical world," said Darvin M. Winick, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, the bipartisan group that sets policy for NAEP. "The lackluster achievement of our older students in science appears to confirm those concerns. As better-prepared fourth-graders continue in their schooling, we all hope that they will raise American achievement results when they reach middle and high school."

To that end, Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced a new bill that will hold states accountable for student performance in science on May 22, 2006. The Science Accountability Act (H.R.5442) would require states to annually assess student proficiency in science from grades 3 to 8, beginning in the 2009-2010 school year. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, states are required to test student proficiency in science only once during grades 3 to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 12. The new Science Accountability Act would put requirements for state science assessments on par with NCLB requirements for annual reading and math assessments. In a joint letter of support for the Science Accountability Act, Dr. Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, and Dr. E. Ann Nalley, president of the American Chemical Society wrote that: "science assessments are necessary tools for managing and evaluating efforts so that all students receive the science education necessary to successfully prepare them for the future. Including science in the accountability measures will put science on an equal footing with other curriculum areas, highlight areas for improvement in many of our nation's schools, and help to ensure that all learners can succeed academically in science."

To read a summary of the Nation's Report CardTM on science achievement, see

To browse sample questions from the NAEP science test, see

For more information on the Science Accountability Act, see

House Votes to Allow ANWR Oil and Gas Leases

The House of Representatives passed a bill to authorize oil and natural gas leasing in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The bill's sponsor, Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA) argued that this measure will increase domestic supplies. "We need a policy that increases domestic production of energy. Right now we do not have that policy," he said. The vote was 225-201, with twenty seven democrats breaking party lines to support the measure. Many democrats, who opposed the bill, argued that the legislation was about politics, not energy policy. "This is all about the elections. They want to say they are doing something meaningful," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). The House has approved two similar bills in the past two years. Each time, the effort failed in the Senate. Currently, a slight majority in the Senate support the measure but there are not enough votes to overturn a likely filibuster. Several representatives who support the bill hope that high gasoline prices will pressure more senators to support drilling in ANWR. "We have a different climate today than when ANWR was last brought up in the Senate," said Rep. David Dreier (R-CA.) in reference to higher gasoline prices.

Bipartisan Group Introduces New Clean Air Legislation

On May 3, 2006, a bipartisan group of senators led by Clean Air Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced the Clean Air Planning Act of 2006 (S.2724), which aims to make significant reductions in mercury, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. S.2724 is a "new and improved" version of clean air legislation introduced by Carper in the 108th Congress. "This is the only bill that has attracted support from the utility industry, environmental groups, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers," Carper said.

Emissions controls in the legislation are stricter than those in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) or those proposed by the President's "Clean Skies" Initiative (S.131). "When it comes to clean air, we can do better than current law and we can do better than the President's plan," Carper said. Specifically, the legislation would require every power plant to capture 90% of the mercury in the coal burned in the plant by 2015; reduce SO2 emissions by roughly 82% by 2015; and reduce NOx by nearly 68% by 2015. To reduce NOx emissions, the bill would set up two cap-and-trade programs, one in the eastern U.S. and one in the western U.S. to ensure that NOx pollution is reduced in the area where it causes the most health and environmental problems.

The legislation would also institute a cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions from power plants in an attempt to slow human-induced climate change. Emissions would be capped at 2006 levels in 2010, and would decrease to 2001 levels by 2015. Power plants could satisfy emissions requirements by reducing CO2 output or by buying CO2 credits from other industries. EPA analyses estimate that under this program, the cost to reduce carbon emissions would be only $1 per ton. "This is a bill that will make significant strides toward improving our air quality and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions at a reasonable cost that industry can afford," said cosponsor Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

For more information on the legislation, see the press releases from Senator Carper:;. To read the text of the Clean Air Planning Act of 2006, see

For more information about the President's Clear Skies Initiative and the EPA's Clean Air Interstate Rule, see AGI's Government Affairs web page:

Legislation Introduced to Elevate FEMA

A bipartisan group of representatives have introduced legislation on May 17th to restore the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to an independent, cabinet-level agency. The RESPOND Act: Restoring Emergency Services to Protect Our Nation from Disasters Act (H.R. 5316) was introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK), Ranking Member James Oberstar (D-MN), Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). The bill would also allow FEMA to lead and coordinate the federal efforts to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against the effects of all major disasters and other emergencies; create professional qualifications for the director and deputy director; and establish an office of Inspector General.

A press release about the bill is available at: and the full text of the legislation can be viewed at:

Drought Monitoring Legislation Moving Through House and Senate

The Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee of the House Science Committee passed the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006 (H.R.5136) on May 4, 2006. The bill, which was introduced in early April by Representatives Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Mark Udall (D-CO), would authorize $94 million over five years to establish a National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) with the goal of improving drought monitoring, prediction, mitigation, and response. The main component of the NIDIS legislation is the creation of a drought early warning system that integrates scientific information about precipitation conditions and provides assessments of the timing and severity of droughts. Additionally, the legislation involves improving communication about drought predictions with federal, state, local, and tribal governments and the public to improve decision making. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would be responsible for creating and coordinating NIDIS.

A Senate version of the legislation, S.2751, was introduced on May 5, 2006, by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). "The research done upfront in monitoring drought trends will help our capabilities to mitigate and respond to its devastating effects in a much more effective manner," Nelson said in a press release accompanying the legislation. "Planning for drought and implementing a risk management type strategy will save taxpayers billions in reduced disaster assistance in the future."

More information on H.R.5136 is available from the House Science Committee: Information on S.2751 can be found at Senator Nelson's website:

Kempthorne Confirmation as Secretary of the Interior

Dirk Kempthorne was confirmed by the Senate on Friday, May 26th as the 49th Secretary of the Interior, replacing Gale A. Norton. Kempthorne has a long history of public service, having previously held office as the mayor of Boise, Idaho (1985-1993), as a U.S. Senator (1993-1996), and as governor of Idaho (1998-2006). His confirmation was initially held up by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Landrieu wanted assurances from Kempthorne that royalties from offshore oil and gas leases would help fund Louisiana coastal projects. Kempthorne discussed this and other issues with Landrieu and she removed her hold, assured of his ability to fairly manage the offshore royalties. "He has shown a great deal of ability in mediating very difficult issues," she said. "He showed that skill as a member of the Senate, and I am sure he will do so as secretary of [the] Interior."

Nelson is concerned that Kempthorne will advocate for expanded drilling off of the Florida coastline, adversely affecting the tourism industry. In particular, Nelson is very concerned about the Minerals Management Service draft five-year plan that would propose leasing about 2 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico's 181 area. Senators are still working on various compromises that would open up more acreage within 181, but still be 100 miles from the Florida coast or provide a temporary 125-mile buffer zone to new drilling until 2020. Nelson attempted to maintain the hold on Kempthorne's nomination, however, a cloture motion overrode his hold by a vote of 85-8. Also voting against cloture were: Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Tom Harkin (D-IA), John Kerry (D-MA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Shortly after the cloture motion passed, Kempthorne was confirmed by a voice vote.

Acting Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett stated in a memorandum to Interior employees: "It is hard to imagine a person more qualified to lead our department. Gov. Kempthorne has served as a mayor, a United States Senator and a western governor. He knows our many complex and diverse issues intimately and has proven throughout his career that he is a consummate consensus builder, able to bring together people and organizations from across the political spectrum to find solutions to complex challenges."

Supreme Court to Hear New Source Review Case

On May 15, 2006, the Supreme Court agreed to review a case between Duke Energy and the Environmental Defense, et al. related to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review. The Supreme Court's willingness to hear this case was somewhat unexpected because the court has rarely considered environmental cases in the past quarter of a century. New Source Review requires power plants and factories to enhance pollution controls when they upgrade their facilities in such a way that they produce more emissions. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a claim against Duke Energy for making 29 modifications to 8 power plants in North Carolina and South Carolina that increased emissions. According to Environment News Service, the modifications at Unit 4 of the Buck Plant in Rowan County, North Carolina cost about $17.7 million or 7 times the cost of the original plant.

Environmental Defense, Sierra Club and North Carolina Environment joined the EPA suit and charged Duke Energy with emitting more pollutants from substantially modified power plants without including any pollution controls as required by the New Source Review. Attorneys for Duke Energy convinced the federal district court for the middle district of North Carolina that the New Source Review should be based on the hourly rate of emissions rather than the annual rate of emissions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling on June 15, 2005; however, on June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC reached a contrary result in reviewing other industry challenges to New Source Review rules. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago also found Cinergy in violation of the Clean Air Act using the annual rate of emissions and Cinergy's appeal was expected to be heard in early June of 2006.

The Supreme Court will consider two issues in the Duke Energy case: 1. Did the Fourth Circuit impermissibly allowed Duke Energy to collaterally attack the legality of national rules that may be reviewed solely in the U.S. Court of Appeal in Washington, DC? 2. Does the Clean Air Act require EPA to interpret the term "modification" in the New Source Review program to encompass changes that result in an actual overall increase in air pollution?

The Supreme Court's decision could affect a myriad of other court cases against power plants accused of violating the Clean Air Act. The American Electric Power Co. has already asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to put a hold on their decision about whether they violated the New Source Review until the Supreme Court reaches a decision. The Supreme Court, however, is unlikely to rule on their case for at least a year.

Additional information on the New Source Review and the Bush Administration's proposed modifications can be found at

GAO Report on Voluntary Pollution Control Programs

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on May 25, 2006, which suggests that there has not been satisfactory progress made in the implementation of voluntary programs to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reduce emissions linked to climate change, two voluntary programs were created by the Bush Administration in 2002 and 2003 to encourage participants to set emissions reduction goals. The two programs are the Climate Leaders Program, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Climate VISION (Voluntary Innovative Sector Initiatives: Opportunities Now) Program, managed by the Department of Energy (DOE).

The GAO report, which was requested by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John F. Kerry (D-MA), found that the EPA and DOE should do more to encourage progress under the voluntary programs. The report indicates that many companies in the voluntary reduction programs have not yet established specific emissions targets. As of November 2005, only 38 of the 74 firms in the EPA program had established reduction goals, and 11 of 15 of the participating trade groups in the DOE program had set reduction targets. The report stated that "EPA and DOE each expect participants in their voluntary emissions reduction programs to complete a number of actions; however, participants' progress toward completing those actions, as well as the agencies' efforts to track accomplishments, has varied."

EPA officials are in the process of developing a system for tracking the progress of participating companies, and have stated that they are willing to remove companies from the Climate Leaders Program if they fail to meet their goals. The GAO has recommended that the DOE also develop a system for tracking groups' progress in completing program steps, and that the EPA and DOE develop written policies regarding participants that are not progressing toward their goals as quickly as expected. Both agencies are currently attempting to estimate the effect of their programs on reducing U.S. emissions.

To read the GAO report, see

Mexico to Offer Earthquake Bonds

According to a May 12th Washington Post article, Mexico has started a new program to stem the cost of earthquake damage. The government of Mexico is selling bonds as an insurance policy against the cost of damaging earthquakes. The $160 million in bonds issued as of May 12th offer a high rate of return for investors, around 3 to 5 percent above the London Interbank Offered Rate. If a damaging earthquake occurs within 3 years, the invested money will be used by the government to pay for repairs. If no damaging earthquake occurs within 3 years, then the investors can cash the bonds and receive the high yield profits. While catastrophe bonds, or "cat-bonds," have been in use since the early 1990s, this is the first time they have been issued by a sovereign country. This financial strategy has received praise because it means that Mexico will not need to wait for voluntary donations from foreign countries to begin rebuilding efforts after an earthquake.

NOAA 2006 Hurricane Predictions

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a very active 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, which will officially begin on June 1. The outlook, produced by scientists at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, and Hurricane Research Division, indicates an 80% chance of an above-normal hurricane season. Up to 16 named storms are predicted, with the prospect of 4 to 6 of them developing into major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher.

On average, the Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with only 2 major hurricanes. The hurricane season in 2005 produced 28 storms, including 15 hurricanes. Seven of these were major hurricanes, of which a record four hit the United States. "Although NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of last year's season, the potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high," stated retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA's Administrator.

NOAA's prediction of above-average hurricane activity in 2006 is based on warmer ocean water temperatures combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds, and a more conducive wind-pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere. These conditions are associated with a climate pattern known as the multi-decadal signal, which has created a period of above-normal Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995.

Max Mayfield, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center cautions that "whether we face an active hurricane season, like this year, or a below-normal season, the crucial message for every person is the same: prepare, prepare, prepare. One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season."

For more information on NOAA's 2006 hurricane predictions, see

AGI Welcomes Our New Summer Interns

AGI's Government Affairs Program welcomes two of the three summer interns that are supported by the American Institute of Professional Geologists Foundation and AGI. Tim Donahue is a senior at Winona State University in Minnesota, majoring in geoscience, public administration, and political science. He expects to graduate this December. He will focus on energy policy and other hot topics during the steamy Washington DC summer. Jessica Rowland earned her B.S. in geosciences and anthropology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and is currently finishing a Master's degree in isotope geochemistry from the University of Arizona. Her research involves reconstructing broad-scale climatic and environmental variation in western Israel through the use of stable oxygen and carbon isotopes in fossil tooth enamel from archaeological sites. While at AGI, Jessica will be following legislation related to climate change, environmental policy and other issues. The third intern, Carrie Donnelly, will be joining GAP in the middle of June.

Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at

DOE: The Environmental Management Site-Specific Advisory Board for the Hanford Site, Washington, will have an open meeting on June 1-2, 2006 to make recommendations to DOE in the areas of environmental restoration, waste management, and related activities. [Federal Register: May 2, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 84)].

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Program publishes this notice to announce the availability of funding for proposals that address the NOAA Climate Program's overall goal to better understand climate variability and change to enhance society's ability to plan and respond. Additional information is available at Applications should be submitted to and use the following funding opportunity OAR-CPO-2007-2000636. [Federal Register: May 2, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 84)].

EPA: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board Staff Office is soliciting nominations for consideration of membership on EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, the Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis, the chartered Science Advisory Board, and SAB Standing Committees. Additional information can be found at [Federal Register: May 3, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 85)].

DOI: The Minerals Management Service is announcing its intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement for the National Offshore Alternate Energy-Related Use (AERU) Program. Additional information is available at [Federal Register: May 5, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 87)].

DOI: The Bureau of Land Management announces a public meeting on June 26-28, 2006, in Fairbanks, Alaska, of the North Slope Science Initiative, Science Technical Group to discuss priorities for management decisions across the North Slope of Alaska. [Federal Register: May 18, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 96)]

DOI: The U.S. Geological Survey announces a public meeting of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program Advisory Committee on June 12-13, 2006, in Washington, DC. [Federal Register: May 23, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 99)]

New Updates to the Website

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site since the last monthly update:

  • Hearings on Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness (5-31-06)
  • Hearings on Federal Science Education Policy (5-31-06)
  • Climate Change Policy (5-26-06)
  • Natural Gas Policy (5-26-06)
  • Outer Continental Shelf Policy (5-26-06)
  • Innovation and US Competitiveness (5-26-06)
  • Hearings on Energy (5-25-06)
  • Nuclear Energy Policy (5-25-06)
  • Climate Change Policy (5-11-06)
  • Outer Continental Shelf Policy (5-11-06)
  • Natural Gas Policy (5-11-06)
  • Hearings on Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness (5-11-06)
  • Clean Air Issues: Clear Skies Initiative/Multi-Pollutant Regulation (5-10-06)
  • Hearings on Earthquake Hazards (5-10-06)
  • National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (5-10-06)
  • Public Access to Federally-Funded Scientific Research (5-9-06)
  • Drought Hazards (5-8-06)
  • Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (5-5-06)
  • Clean Water Issues (5-4-06)
  • Hearings and Briefings on Climate Change (5-4-06)
  • Hearings on Drought Hazards (5-3-06)
  • Hearings on Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness (4-28-06)

Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Jessica Rowland and Tim Donahue, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Interns.

Sources: Association of Research Libraries web site, Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers web site, Thomas, United States Senate web sites, United States House of Representatives web sites, Washington Post and E&E News, Congressional Quarterly, E & E News, Federal Register.

This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves. Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at <> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.

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

Posted June 1, 2006.