Monthly Review: May 2010

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 The current monthly review and archived monthly reviews are all available online. Subscribe to receive the Government Affairs Monthly Review by email.

    ***Administration News and Updates***
  1. Update on Administration’s Response to the Oil Spill
  2. President’s Nuclear Waste Commission Holds Public Meeting
  3. President Obama Request Spending Cut Powers

  4. ***Congressional News and Updates***
  5. Third Time’s a Charm: House Passes America COMPETES
  6. Senate Approves Supplemental Funding
  7. Kerry and Lieberman Release Climate and Energy Bill Draft
  8. Update on Congressional Response to the Oil Spill
  9. Senate Bill to Stop Offshore Aquaculture
  10. House Committee Approves Water Infrastructure Bill
  11. EPA Resolution Set for June Vote
  12. Senators Introduce Amendments to Clarify “Renewable Biomass”
  13. Joint Economic Committee Releases Report on Importance of Federal R&D
  14. House Democrats Request EPA Consider Acidification

  15. ***Federal Agency News and Updates***
  16. EPA Releases Final Rule on GHG Emissions
  17. NEPA Procedures Under Review at MMS
  18. MMS To Be Split Into Three Agencies
  19. USGS Holds Briefing on Citizen Science and Earthquake Risks
  20. USGS Debuts WaterAlert Service

  21. ***Other News and Updates***
  22. Report Shows University Research Sparks Economic Growth
  23. Student Body Presidents Urge Congress to Support RE-ENERGYSE
  24. New Ecological Report on the Science of Storing Carbon in Forests
  25. University of Virginia Files Petition to Dismiss Climate Scientist Investigation
  26. Group Tries to Block Teaching of Global Warming in Colorado
  27. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Two New Summer Interns
  28. Key Reports and Publications
  29. Key Federal Register Notices
  30. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Update on Administration’s Response to the Oil Spill

Much has happened in a month of frustrations and failures in stopping the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drill rig that exploded and collapsed on April 20, 2010. BP tried capping, siphoning and plugging the leak with mud and materials, but none of these efforts worked and the spill has now become the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Additional solutions will be tried while two relief wells continue to be drilled with the hope that in several months time one of these wells can permanently stop the spill.  President Barack Obama summarized much of the federal effort in a public statement and press conference on May 27. The President stated that his administration is taking over control of the efforts to stem the spill and mitigate the impacts, though BP and other industry experts will be needed to stop the leak and clean-up the oil and related impacts.

Other highlights of Administration activities include:
About 20,000 people, 1,400 vessels, 1.85 million feet of boom, 920,000 gallons of dispersants, 28 boat surveillance and recovery teams and 17 federal staging areas have been deployed as of the end of May.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, Director of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) resigns and Bob Abbey (Director of the Bureau of Land Management) is assigned as the Acting Director of MMS.

The Unified Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group, led by U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, estimates flow rates between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day, far more than the earlier BP estimate of 5,000 barrels per day.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen approves of a section of the Louisiana barrier island project to determine its effectiveness and impact and approves controlled burns on some marshes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases its 2010 hurricane forecast for the Atlantic Basin, which might affect oil spill response plans.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) places a moratorium on drilling of new deepwater wells until after further review.

DOI will postpone consideration of five exploration wells by Shell Oil Company in the Arctic and will reconsider offshore drilling in new areas for offshore Alaska.

DOI will cancel the proposed 2012 lease sales for offshore Virginia and the 2010 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

DOI completed an expedited safety report and wants “a recertification of all Blowout Preventers (BOPs) for floating drilling operations; stronger well control practices, blowout prevention and intervention procedures; tougher inspections for deepwater drilling operations; and expanded safety and training programs for rig workers.”

Interior Secretary Salazar issues a secretarial order that calls for dividing MMS into three agencies (see summary #16 below for more information). Salazar also called upon Congress to consider organic legislation to formally establish MMS, or whatever agencies are created, as the agency currently exists as the result of a secretarial order after the passage of the Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act of 1982 (Public Law 97-451). The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) gave MMS authority to develop renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.

President Obama signs an executive order on May 21, establishing a Bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission will be led by two co-chairs: former two-term Florida Governor and former Senator Bob Graham and former Administrator of U.S. EPA William Reilly.

NOAA further restricts fishing in more areas of the Gulf and for longer periods, while the Coast Guard closes coastal areas where oil poses a threat.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and BP carry out intense discussions and debates about the use of chemical dispersants and which chemical dispersants to use. For the third time, EPA convenes a panel of scientists from University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center, NOAA, EPA and the Coast Guard to study dispersant use and its impacts. Rigorous monitoring and analysis will continue, but little is really known about the impacts of such large amounts of dispersants, especially underwater use.

The National Science Foundation calls for and issues Rapid Response Research Grants for scientists to study the impacts of the oil spill and the use of dispersants.

National Park Service creates a web page to inform the public of closures and efforts to protect coastal assets.

For more information visit the DOI’s Deepwater Horizon Response web page.

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 2. President’s Nuclear Waste Commission Holds Public Meeting

The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, comprised of leading scientists, former public policy officials, and experts from the private sector and NGOs, met to discuss the best path forward on how to deal with existing and future nuclear waste. The commission heard many opposing arguments on the viability of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the requirements for a geologic repository and how waste should be stored and transported in the interim.

There was general agreement from the commission and witnesses that there is a need for a geologic repository, whether we move forward with fuel reprocessing or not. Harvard scientist, Dr. Matthew Bunn, suggested the U.S. follow the lead of Finland and Sweden who have selected sites for waste repositories, with the support of the local community. Bunn and other witnesses, such as Corey Hinderstein, VP of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, stressed the fact that dry cast storage is a safe solution for interim storage and there is no need to act hastily on a long term solution. Information about the commission members, video archive of the entire hearing and copies of the witnesses’ presentations can be found here.

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 3. President Obama Request Spending Cut Powers

President Obama has sent a measure to Congress that would give the President the power to submit rescissions within 45 days of the passage of any spending bill. Congress would then be given the opportunity to vote on the rescissions without any amendments. The measure is similar to a line-item veto that Congress approved in the 1990s and the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional. House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) introduced the measure (H.R. 5454) on May 28, 2010.

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 4. Third Time’s a Charm: House Passes America COMPETES

For the third time in two weeks, the House debated and voted on the reauthorization of America COMPETES (H.R. 5116). The third vote proved to be the charm as the legislation passed by a simple majority vote of 262 to 150. The legislation authorizes significant increases in investments for physical science research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) over five years.

The measure provides investments for energy initiatives at the Department of Energy, outlines innovation initiatives and restructuring of NIST, increases support for Noyce scholarships and prescribes numerous incentives and improvements to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) higher education efforts across the federal government. In addition, the bill establishes an Interagency Public Access Committee directed by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to “coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications.”

The legislation suffered a far more contentious debate this year than in 2007 because the reauthorization creates new initiatives and costs more (about $86 billion over five years). Republicans tried to amend the bill and drastically reduce funding, including a freeze on all existing programs until the federal budget is balanced, but they were unable to prevail. The Democrats prevailed by requesting a separate vote on each of nine components of the amendment and only two amendments passed. One amendment called the “porn provision” would call for the termination of any federal employee who watches pornography at work and the other amendment would allow military recruiters on college campuses.

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 5. Senate Approves Supplemental Funding

Just before leaving for a weeklong Memorial Day break, the Senate passed a $58.8 billion war supplemental spending bill (H.R. 4899) that is more conservative than an $84 billion House version. While the bulk of the measures are for defense spending related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Senate bill provides $68 million for the federal response to the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The amount for the oil spill is much less than the House request of $275 million, however, the House postponed additional work on their version of the war supplemental bill until after the Memorial Day recess. The chambers will conference on their bills and send a final version to the President that includes spending for science, assessment and further relief for multiple disasters, including the oil spill.

The Senate bill would provide $29 million for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to increase inspections and enforcements related to offshore drilling operations in the Gulf, $5 million for economic development assistance programs, $2 million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the environmental impacts of the spill, $10 million for the Justice Department to fund legal expenses, $2 million to the Food and Drug Administration for food safety related to the oil spill, $7 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for scientific studies of the oil spill, a $13 million contingency fund through NOAA to help fishermen and fishing businesses affected by the spill and $1 million for a National Academy of Sciences study of the impacts of the oil spill.

Of the $29 million for DOI, $20 million is likely for inspections and oversight of offshore drilling, $7 million for science and $2 million for other activities. Interior has already spent $8 million (as of May 27) and only about $4 million of that is refundable through the Oil Spill Pollution Act. The measure would also allow advances of as much as $100 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.

Separate from the war and oil spill provisions, the Senate measure would provide $18.6 million to repair Mississippi River Corps of Engineers projects damaged by natural disasters, $173 million for various damaged navigational projects, $18.2 million for Department of Labor for mine safety, $18 million for forest restoration initiatives related to national disasters and several hundred million dollars for reimbursement and ongoing relief/response to the Haiti earthquake. Finally, while the Senate version is more conservative, it does include $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address various natural disasters, which the House version does not contain.

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 6. Kerry and Lieberman Release Climate and Energy Bill Draft

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Liebermann (I-CT) released a draft of their climate and energy bill, called the American Power Act, on May 12, 2010. Their colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked with them on the draft for many months, withdrew his support over immigration reform legislation—though he indicates he supports the measure in spirit.

The measure sets up a cap for the largest greenhouse gas emitters, which will include 7,500 factories and power plants according to the senators. It sets a floor ($12 per ton) and ceiling price ($25 per ton) for emissions that exceed reduction targets. The revenues from the cap will go to a “universal refund” that will be used to reduce the federal deficit and as refunds to consumers. The bill includes funding and tax incentives for research and innovations for renewable energy and clean energy technologies. An additional $6 billion annually would go toward improving transportation infrastructure and other incentives to help improve the efficiency and reduce the emissions from the nation’s transportation fleet.

Given the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, the senators added new protections for coastal states by allowing them to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores and allows nearby states to veto any drilling that might cause adverse impacts to their shores. States that pursue drilling will receive 37.5 percent of royalty revenues, adding for the first time an important incentive for states interested in offshore drilling in federal waters.

To deal with the difficult issue of the coal industry, the measure provides $2 billion annually for research and development of carbon capture and sequestration plus incentives for the commercial deployment of such technologies.

For all of the details of the draft and comments, visit Kerry’s American Power Act site.

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 7. Update on Congressional Response to the Oil Spill

After the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill, Congress has been grappling with the growing regulatory and environmental disaster. The House and Senate have held numerous hearings in multiple committees to try and understand what went wrong, figure out who is at fault, and determine how to proceed. The heads of BP, Transocean, Halliburton and a barrage of others associated with the oil rig and the petroleum industry have been on Capitol Hill repeatedly in May to testify before Congress. On May 27 alone, there were 5 congressional hearings related to the spill. Read more of the AGI coverage of the congressional hearings on our energy policy page.

Some members of Congress have introduced bills to ban offshore drilling entirely. Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 5213/S. 3358) to put a moratorium on offshore drilling leases for exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas in any area offshore of Oregon, Washington, and California. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) introduced similar legislation for the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, called the East Coast and Gulf Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 5287).

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments Act of 2010 (S. 3346) to increase the liability coverage from $75 million to $10 billion that would retroactively apply to what BP has to cover. Other bills have been introduced to overhaul the spill claims process and future offshore regulatory process. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and others on the Senate Commerce Committee want to mandate that Minerals Management Service get scientific advice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) during the offshore permitting process. For additional information, read the Ecological Society of America (ESA) summary (second article in the list) of the congressional response.

On May 27, a $68 million appropriation to cover federal response to the oil spill was passed as part of the $58.8 billion Senate war supplemental bill. The House bill currently provides $275 million for the clean-up efforts, but their supplemental will not be voted on until after the Memorial Day Recess.

Congress, particularly the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Chair Edward Markey (D-MA), Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) have been instrumental in getting BP to release live underwater footage of the spill. Read Markey’s letter to BP and press release here, and the letter and press release from Boxer and Nelson here. Markey has also been vocal about the use of chemical dispersants in the oil clean-up, expressing his concern for the environmental hazard they might pose and asking about other options.

The Obama Administration has been involved with the spill response and has indicated it is taking full leadership of the response while holding BP accountable. Read the monthly review summary above about the administration’s response and involvement (see 1). Nonetheless the administration will seek input and new legislation from Congress in order to respond to the spill and initiate any new regulations or agencies in order to try to avoid another catastrophic spill of similar dimensions.

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 8. Senate Bill Would Stop Offshore Aquaculture

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a bill to freeze plans, permits or rules regarding offshore aquaculture for more than three years so that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could study the impacts in more detail. NOAA is considering a national plan to permit offshore fish farms and fisheries that include sinking large cages into deep water to raise saltwater species such as halibut and cod.

NOAA has been moving toward a national plan for offshore aquaculture for some time and recently accelerated plans after the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved plans to allow aquaculture between 3 and 200 miles offshore. There are no fish farms in federal waters and no federal regulations for offshore aquaculture. There are some commercial operations in state/territorial waters near Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Vitter noted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a yet another complicating factor in an already stressed Gulf and is concerned that offshore aquaculture might add more strain. NOAA would like a national plan rather than piecemeal efforts regarding offshore aquaculture. Congress has been lukewarm regarding offshore aquaculture at best and would likely be required to provide the authorizing legislation for NOAA to develop a plan and regulations. Besides the oil spill, efforts regarding offshore aquaculture are likely to be complicated by other competing interests in the offshore, such as new wave and wind energy projects.

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 9. House Committee Approves Water Infrastructure Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a water infrastructure measure (H.R. 5320) that would provide assistance to improve drinking water infrastructure, reduce lead contamination and study endocrine disruptors in drinking water. An amendment from Representative Dianne DeGette (D-CO) to require drillers to disclose the chemical composition of waters used for hydraulic fracturing was withdrawn at the request of Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA).

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2007 that $335 billion over about 20 years is needed to upgrade drinking water infrastructure in the U.S. The measure provides $4.8 billion over three years for states to borrow for upgrading and maintaining drinking water infrastructure.

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 10. EPA Resolution Set for June Vote

The Senate will vote in early June on a resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA has proposed mandating permits, starting in July 2011, for existing plants that emit 100,000 tons of GHGs a year, or that increase their emissions by 75,000 tons annually. Murkowski has tentatively agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on a June 10 vote.

The EPA independently ruled in December 2009 that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore EPA could regulate them under the Clean Air Act. This followed a 2007 Supreme Court mandate that EPA regulate GHG emissions if they found them to be harmful to human health. However, Murkowski and many others feel the EPA is wrong in circumventing Congress to make this decision and that the Clean Air Act is ill suited to properly handle a regulation of this kind. Murkowski foresees job loss and negative implications for small business if EPA is allowed to proceed. Climate advocates are worried Murkowski’s resolution will be another set-back to moving forward with comprehensive climate change legislation. The Union of Concerned Scientists submitted a letter to Congress, signed by over 1,800 scientists, urging them not to support Murkowski's resolution. The measure needs a simple majority to pass and Murkowski already has 41 co-sponsors on the bill. If it passes, the resolution will still face scrutiny in the House before reaching President Obama’s desk for his consideration.

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 11. Senators Introduce Amendments to Clarify “Renewable Biomass”

Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill (S.3381) on May 17 that would broaden the definition of “renewable biomass” to eliminate confusion. As it stands, renewable biomass is currently defined by the last amendments made to the Clean Air Act in 1990. The senators’ proposed legislation would change the definition to the one set in the 2008 farm bill (H.R.2419) and would require that future systems designed to regulate electricity and greenhouse gas emissions use the same definition. On federal lands renewable biomass would need to be taken in an environmentally stable manner, and cannot be taken from designated wilderness areas. For private lands, biomass is recognized as any material that is renewed on a regular basis.

The Pollution and Costs Reduction Act (S.3379) submitted by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on May 17 defines the term “advanced renewable biomass” as renewable biomass produced following sustainable practices. This legislation would provide incentives through grants for the research and development of biofuels.

The broadening of the definition of renewable biomass is of concern to some environmentalists, who worry that plantations will develop to provide biomass. They argue that the landscape changes would result in a decrease in Earth’s ability to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

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 12. Joint Economic Committee Releases Report on Importance of Federal R&D

The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) released a report on May 12 describing the importance of federally funded research and development (R&D). The Pivotal Role of Government Investment in Basic Research discusses how federal investments generate economic growth, why investments should be increased, and the critical role federal funding plays. Basic research is conducted to gain further understanding of a subject, without a specific commercial application in mind. The lack of an assured commercial application dissuades most private firms from funding basic research, leaving the majority of basic research funding to the federal government. Although studies have found that basic research benefits the economy as whole, the funding it receives may still be too low. The JEC concludes that increased basic research funding could help the U.S. economy by creating new industries and jobs. The full report, along with others, can be found on the JEC webpage.

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 13. House Democrats Request EPA Consider Acidification

Forty four House Democrats submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the agency’s public comment period on ocean acidity. The letter, spearheaded by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jay Inslee (D-WA), asks EPA to take a more active role in addressing ocean acidification by looking at ways that the Clean Water Act may be used to protect marine waters.

Representative Lois Capps’s website contains a press release and copy of the letter.

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 14. EPA Releases Final Rule on GHG Emissions

On May 13 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large stationary source emitters. Under the rule, starting in January 2011, facilities currently regulated by the Clean Air Act will be required to include GHG emissions in their permits if they increase emissions by 75,000 tons per year (tpy). Starting July 2010, the rule will expand to cover all new facilities with GHG emissions over 100,000 tpy, and will require the facilities to use the “best available control technologies” to limit emissions.

The final rule comes after the EPA reviewed comments on the proposed thresholds released in October 2009, which proposed requiring facilities that emit 25,000 tons of GHG per year to obtain permits. The significantly higher threshold would exempt farms, schools and other small facilities from having to obtain permits.

The final rule has received criticism from industry representatives, who maintain that the EPA is overstepping its legal bounds and the final rule is expected to be challenged in court.

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 15. NEPA Procedures Under Review at MMS

Following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced that they will review the procedures outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) on outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas exploration. The announcement of the review comes after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar faced criticism over whether the NEPA guidelines were followed by the MMS prior to the April 20 incident. In addition to the review, the Obama Administration proposed changing the 30 day review period to 90 days, to allow the MMS more time to conduct environmental impact studies on OCS exploration plans. See the full press release from DOI.

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 16. MMS To Be Split Into Three Agencies

After the Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has been looking to streamline regulation and oversight, eliminate corruption, and improve overall effectiveness of the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a Secretarial Order on May 19 to divide MMS into three separate entities.

The agency collects $13 billion in revenue from offshore drilling annually and is the chief regulatory body for the offshore oil and gas industry. The proposed restructuring will make oversight of offshore operations, revenue and royalty collection, and future clean energy development each operate under a separate mission statement. Salazar will establish the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The safety and ocean energy bureaus will be led by a director with oversight from the DOI Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, Wilma Lewis. The revenue office will be further separated from the others by having supervision moved to the DOI Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, Rhea Suh.

See the full DOI press release here.

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 17. USGS Holds Briefing on Citizen Science and Earthquake Risks

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held a congressional briefing on Citizen Science and Earthquakes: Reducing the Risk through the Power of People, which focused on how citizen and agency action along with innovative tools can reduce the damage and loss of life caused by a large earthquake in the U.S.

John Hooper, Director of Earthquake Engineering at Magnusson Klemencic Associates, and Mark Benthien, Director of Communication, Education and Outreach at the Southern California Earthquake Center, discussed issues related to earthquake preparedness. Hooper focused on the importance of strong building codes, as illustrated by the stark difference between the number of buildings destroyed in the January 12 earthquake in Haiti and the February 27 earthquake off the coast of Chile. Benthien highlighted the success of earthquake drills in California and noted the upcoming Great California ShakeOut on October 21, 2010, and a ShakeOut planned for the central U.S. to mark the bicentennial of the New Madrid earthquake in April 2011. ShakeOut studies, scenario reports, videos and more are available from the USGS.

David Wald, a Seismologist at the USGS, showcased post earthquake information systems, including Did You Feel It? and ShakeMap. Wald also discussed the Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquake Response (PAGER) application, which provides immediate estimates of the number of people exposed to severe shaking following an earthquake, a useful tool for emergency response organizations. These tools and more can be found here.

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 18. USGS Debuts WaterAlert Service

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) introduced the new “WaterAlert” system, which sends emails or text messages to subscribers when water values for data collection stations exceed given parameter thresholds. The development and maintenance for this service comes from the USGS Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, and USGS data-collection partners. Updates are received at regular intervals (1-4 hours for most stations), and more frequently during a high risk event. For more details, or to subscribe, visit the USGS WaterAlert web site.

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 19. Report Shows University Research Sparks Economic Growth

A report titled, “Sparking Economic Growth: How Federally Funded University Research Creates Innovation, New Companies and Jobs” (PDF), was released on May 11 by The Science Coalition (TSC), a non-profit, nonpartisan organization composed of leading research universities. The report expounds the benefits of basic research, demonstrating through 100 different companies the success stories that have been made possible through federally funded basic research. These example companies carry impressive numbers, collectively employing over 100,000 people and have annual revenues that are billions of dollars. TSC maintains that were it not for the federally supported research, these companies would have never been created, and our economy would not have experienced the benefits these companies have to offer. The report concludes that the United States must continue to support research and development (R&D) to remain ahead of the innovation curve and maintain its position as the global leader. For more information on The Science Coalition and to view other reports, visit the TSC web site.

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 20. Student Body Presidents Urge Congress to Support RE-ENERGYSE

Student body presidents from over 100 universities submitted a letter (PDF) on April 28, 2010 to Congress urging them to support the “REgaining our ENERGY Science & Engineering Edge” (RE-ENERGYSE) program. As part of a plea for a national program in clean energy science and engineering education to train the U.S. workforce and remain competitive in the clean energy industry, the Americans for Energy Leadership and the student body presidents called for $55 million to fully support RE-ENERGYSE.

RE-ENERGYSE, originally proposed by President Obama in April 2009, would foster energy education by creating energy research opportunities for undergraduates, an education and outreach campaign on clean energy science and technology, partnerships with private industry and technical colleges, and interdisciplinary energy graduate programs. RE-ENERGYSE is now being considered by Congress as part of the Department of Energy (DOE)’s fiscal year 2011 budget. It would be jointly funded by DOE and the National Science Foundation.

Read the full press release and letter from Americans for Energy Leadership.

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 21. New Ecological Report on the Science of Storing Carbon in Forests

In their article “A Synthesis of the Science on Forests and Carbon for U.S. Forests,” published in the Spring 2010 publication of Issues in Ecology, Mike Ryan et al. review proposed methods of using forests to store carbon, and their cost benefits and tradeoffs. They stress that relying on forests to offset carbon emissions is not as simple as it sounds. For example, to offset 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions with tree planting requires planting trees on one-third of U.S. agricultural land. This alone is not cost-effective, and would require a price on carbon or other incentives to be feasible. The authors note that climate change may increase the occurrence of fire, drought, and insect outbreaks, which can devastate forests. Ryan et al. recommend making “sure we focus on retaining the forests we have by making sure we get tree regeneration after these disturbances.” A more in depth summary of this article is available from the Ecological Society of America here.

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 22. University of Virginia Files Petition to Dismiss Climate Scientist Investigation

The University of Virginia filed a petition with the state circuit court in Albermarle County, VA asking the court to set aside Virginia’s Attorney General (AG) Ken Cuccinelli’s fraud investigation demand. Cuccinelli is investigating whether climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, committed fraud while he was a professor at the University of Virginia. The university states the AG has failed to satisfy the requirements of the Virginia fraud law, primarily by failing to state what potential fraud violation(s) have possibly been committed.

The university letter states, “[The law] does not authorize the attorney general to engage in scientific debate or advance the commonwealth’s positions in unrelated litigation about federal environmental policy and regulation … This is particularly true where, as here, the information requested goes to the core of academic research otherwise protected by law.”

Cuccinelli issued a public statement on May 19, indicating his investigation is not motivated by a disagreement with the scientific findings of Dr. Mann.

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 23. Group Tries to Block Teaching of Global Warming in Colorado

Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE), a non-profit devoted to ensuring public schools take a balanced approach to teaching global warming and creators of the video Not Evil Just Wrong to “confront the erroneous claims of environmental extremists,” is partnering with former school board candidate Rose Pugliese to bring “balanced” education to Mesa County Schools in Colorado. Pugliese presented two petitions to the school board: one asking for science teachers to stop giving lessons on global warming, and another asking that political views be kept out of the classroom.

BEE is making Mesa County a test case for a national movement to keep teaching the human influence on global warming out of science classes. Local scientists and college professors have spoken up against BEE, saying the petitions amount to censoring science. Other communities in Colorado as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada have started petition campaigns of their own.

See a news article in the Denver Post for more information.

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 24. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Two New Summer Interns

The Government Affairs Program welcomed Elizabeth Brown and Lizz Huss, two of the three 2010 AGI/AIPG summer interns. Elizabeth and Lizz will spend twelve weeks in Washington DC learning about geosciences policy and helping facilitate communication between policymakers and geoscientists.

Elizabeth received her BA in geology from Occidental College in May 2009. As an undergraduate, she studied tectonic geomorphology and apatite fission-track thermochronology. In the summer of 2008, Elizabeth participated in a NSF-REU program at Mesa State College, where she studied the incision history of the upper Colorado River. She participated in a Keck Geology Consortium summer program, which took her to western Mongolia for four weeks. This fall, Elizabeth will start her PhD at Yale University as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, where she will work on topics related to climate change and landscape evolution. While at AGI, Elizabeth will focus on topics related to natural hazards, energy policy and climate change. She is looking forward to exploring a new city and gaining a new perspective on the importance of the geosciences.

Lizz is entering her junior year at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where she is working on her bachelor degrees in Geology and English. After taking an environmental science class to fulfill a general education requirement in her freshman year, she became interested in the geological sciences and has not looked back since. Lizz looks at the internship with AGI this summer as an opportunity to combine the skills she has learned in her two majors, along with a chance to consider her career choices. She is eagerly anticipating the research she will be conducting next winter on her trip to Death Valley with faculty and students from the Geneseo Geology department. For now, however, she’s excited about exploring Washington, DC, even if it means leaving her beloved Adirondacks for the summer.

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 25. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Services (CRS)***
Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress
Released April 30, 2010. During the past two decades, while U.S. oil imports and consumption have steadily risen, oil spill incidents and the volume of oil spilled have not followed a similar course. However, the risk of a major oil spill remains. This report reviews the history and trends of oil spills in the United States; identifies the legal authorities governing oil spill prevention, response, and cleanup; and examines the threats of future oil spills in U.S. coastal waters.

U.S. Offshore Oil and Gas Resources: Prospects and Processes
Released April 26, 2010. Access to potential oil and gas resources under the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) continues to be controversial. Consideration of offshore development for any purpose may raise concerns over the protection of the marine and coastal environment. This must be weighed against pressure to expand oil and gas supplies and will likely lead Congress and the Administration to consider carefully which areas to keep open to leasing and which to protect from development.

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): Selected Regulatory and Legislative Issues
Released April 22, 2010. Despite nationwide progress in providing safe drinking water since the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, an array of issues and challenges remain. Recent issues include infrastructure funding needs, regulatory compliance issues, concerns caused by detections of unregulated contaminants in drinking water, adequacy of existing regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pace in reviewing and potentially revising older standards. New bills have been introduced to deal with these issues.

Monitoring and Verification in Arms Control
Released April 21, 2010. The United States and Russia signed a new START Treaty on April 8, 2010. This report reviews some of the monitoring and verification provisions in the new START Treaty and compares these with some of the provisions in the original START Treaty. It focuses, specifically, on differences between the treaties in the provisions governing the exchange of data, known as telemetry, generated during missile flight tests; provisions governing the monitoring of mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); and differences in the numbers and types of on-site inspections.

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***
Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change
Prepublication released May 19, 2010. This new book from the America’s Climate Choices study argues that substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require prompt and sustained efforts to promote major technological and behavioral changes. Although limiting emissions must be a global effort to be effective, strong U.S. actions to reduce emissions will help encourage other countries to do the same, establishing it as a leader in developing and deploying the technologies necessary for this reduction.

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change
Prepublication released May 19, 2010. This report explains that reducing vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change that the nation cannot avoid is a highly desirable strategy to manage and minimize the risks. It notes that policymakers need to anticipate a range of possible climate conditions and that uncertainty about the exact timing and magnitude of impacts is not a reason to wait to act, especially since some impacts are already being observed around the country. It speaks to action as an insurance policy, while inaction could increase risks.

Advancing the Science of Climate Change
Prepublication released May 19, 2010. A report in America’s Climate Choice series argues that the compelling case that climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activities is based on a strong, credible body of evidence. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never ‘closed,’ the book emphasizes that multiple lines of evidence support the scientific understanding of climate change.

Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research
Released May 12, 2010. Over the past five years or more, there has been a steady and significant decrease in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) laboratory capabilities, including equipment, maintenance, and facility upgrades. The fundamental research community at NASA has been severely impacted by the budget reductions that are responsible for this decrease in laboratory capabilities, and as a result NASA’s ability to support its own future goals, along with the ability to make the basic scientific and technical contributions that others depend on, is in serious jeopardy.

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
Recovery Act: Clean Water Projects Are Underway, but Procedures May Not Be in Place to Ensure Adequate Oversight
Released May 26, 2010. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) included $4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF). This report addresses (1) state efforts to meet requirements associated with the Recovery Act and SRF program, (2) the uses of Recovery Act funds, and (3) EPA and states’ efforts to oversee the use of these funds. EPA has not established new sub-recipient monitoring requirements for Recovery Act-funded projects and has given states a high degree of flexibility to operate their SRF programs based on each state's unique needs.

Helium Program: Key Developments Since the Early 1990s and Future Considerations
Released May 13, 2010. The federal government has been extensively involved in the production, storage, and use of helium since the early part of the 20th century. Since about 1996, there is no specific direction for the federal helium program past 2015 and many uncertainties of the federal helium program need to be addressed. This report discusses (1) GAO's findings and recommendations in the early 1990s, (2) key changes that have occurred since the early 1990s, and (3) some of the issues facing the helium program in the near future.

Environmental Satellites: Strategy Needed to Sustain Critical Climate and Space Weather Measurements
Released April 27, 2010. In 2006 key climate and space weather instruments used for forecasting the weather, measuring variations in climate over time, and predicting space weather were removed from the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R). This report (1) assesses plans for restoring the capabilities that were removed from the two key satellite acquisitions, (2) evaluates federal efforts to establish a strategy for the long-term provision of satellite-provided climate data, and (3) evaluates federal efforts to establish a strategy for the long-term provision of satellite-provided space weather data.

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 26. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register can be accessed at:

DOC—The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is soliciting applications for the i6 Challenge. The i6 Challenge is a new, multi-agency innovation competition led by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) and its EDA. The DOC and EDA will coordinate this funding opportunity with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to encourage and reward innovative, ground-breaking ideas that will accelerate technology commercialization and new venture formation to drive economic growth and job creation. Applicants to the i6 Challenge are expected to propose mechanisms to fill in existing gaps or leverage existing infrastructure and institutions in new and innovative ways to achieve the i6 objectives. Submit application by 11:59pm EDT on July 15, 2010 either online at or as a PDF to For more information, go to:  
[Monday, May 4, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 85)]

DOI—Minerals Management Service announced a final rule to establish regulations to address sustained casing pressure in oil and gas wells completed in the Outer Continental Shelf. The final rule will establish criteria for monitoring and testing of wells with sustained casing pressure, and will also incorporate the American Petroleum Institute's Recommended Practice for managing annular casing pressure. New regulations are needed because the current regulations are not adequate for wells with sustained casing pressure. This rule becomes effective on June 3, 2010. For more regarding procedure contact Kirk Malstrom at (703) 787-1751. For technical information call Russell Hoshman at (504) 736-2627.
[Monday, May 4, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 85)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) issued a final rule to establish a National Program with new standards for light-duty vehicles consistent with the National Fuel Efficiency Policy announced by President Obama on May 19, 2009. The National Program will satisfy the requirements of NHSTA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and the EPA greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act. This rule will go in effect on July 6, 2010. For more information, go to and search under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0472 and NHTSA-2009-0059. Or, contact Tad Wysor at the EPA by phone: (734) 214-4332 or email:
[Friday, May 7, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 88)]

DOC—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces a public review and comment period on the NOAA Arctic Vision and Strategy. This document provides a high-level framework and six strategic goals to address NOAA's highest priorities in the region. It is based upon assumptions that the region will: continue to experience dramatic change; become more accessible to human activities; and, be a focus of increasing global strategic interest. The document is available at Comments on the document must be submitted by June 10, 2010 to For more information, contact Tracy Rouleau at or (301) 713-1622 x187.
[Monday, May 10, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 89)]

DOI—The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) requests comments on the paperwork burden of the State Water Resources Research Institute Program Annual Application and Reporting. Please submit written comments on whether this information collection is necessary, presents an accurate estimate of the burden, and ways to enhance the quality of information collected and minimize the burden on respondents by June 16, 2010. Submit comments directly to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Attention: Desk Officer for the Department of the Interior at Submit a second copy to Phadrea Ponds at Use OMB Control Number 1028-NEW in the subject line. For more information contact John Schefter at the USGS (
[Monday, May 17, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 94)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board will convene a workgroup of experts for rapid advice on scientific and technical issues related to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. This advice will assist the Agency in developing and implementing timely and scientifically appropriate responses to oil spill contamination in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Members of the public who wish to obtain information about the rapid consultative advice process and projects may contact Dr. Anthony F. Maciorowski in the Science Advisory Board Staff Office by phone: (202) 343-9983, or email: Information on the workgroup consultations will also be posted online at
[Wednesday, May 19, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 96)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule for mercury emissions from the gold mine ore processing and production area source category on April 28, 2010. That public comment period is now extended to June 28, 2010. Submit comments and view supplemental documents online at: under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0239. For further information, contact Chuck French by phone: (919) 541-7912 or email:
[Thursday, May 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 97)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board is holding a public meeting to review of two EPA draft documents: Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems, and Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity. The meeting will be held on July 20-21, 2010 in Washington, DC. For more information, contact Edward Hanlon by phone: (202) 343-9946 or email:, or visit
[Tuesday, May 25, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 100)]

NWTRB—The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board will have a public meeting June 29, 2010 in Idaho Falls, ID to discuss the Department of Energy (DOE) plans for managing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Among the topics that will be discussed are how the recent decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program will affect waste management plans, and plans underway at DOE to transition its responsibilities under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) from the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to the Office of Nuclear Energy. A detailed meeting agenda will be available on the Board's web site approximately one week before the meeting. For information, contact Carl Di Bella by phone: (703)235-4473.
[Thursday, May 27, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 102)]

CEQ—The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is conducting a 30 day review of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) policies, practices, and procedures for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) decisions for Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas exploration and development as a result of the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon. As part of that review, CEQ is soliciting public comment on the review process and current MMS NEPA polices and practices for the OCS. More information is available at Submit comments by June 17, 2010 to the web site above, or email them to Horst Greczmiel
[Friday, May 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 103)]

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 27. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

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Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Elizabeth Brown, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Elizabeth Huss, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, Denver Post, National Academies Press, American Institute of Physics, Ecological Society of America, National Center for Science Education, Government Accountability Office, Open CRS, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Politico.

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 geosciences community that it serves. More information on these topcs can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Compiled June 2, 2010.