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Monthly Review: May 2011


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.

    ***Announcements***
  1. Call for Geoscientists to Attend GEO-CVD in September

    ***Administration News and Updates***
  2. US, UK Issue a Joint Statement on Education, Science, and Innovation
  3. Obama Administration Announces Plans to Cut Billions in Regulations

    ***Congressional News and Updates***
  4. Update on Appropriations for FY 2012
  5. Oil and Gas Bills Move as Hearings Debate Concerns
  6. More Critical Minerals Bills Introduced
  7. Senator Tester Proposes Mine Reclamation Measure
  8. Arizona Legislators Sponsor Copper Mine Bill
  9. Rare Earth Amendments Attached to Defense Authorization Bill
  10. Carbon Capture and Sequestration Bills Introduced and Marked Up
  11. Bill to Analyze Impacts of EPA Regulations Offered
  12. Senator Burr Proposes Department of Energy and Environment
  13. Bill to Strike 43 Educational Programs from ESEA Marked Up
  14. Bipartisan Oceans Bill Introduced in the Senate
  15. Flood Insurance Reauthorization Passes Finance Committee
  16. Bill to Expand Hydrographic Services in the Arctic Introduced

  17. ***Federal Agency News and Updates***
  18. EPA Delays Boiler Emissions Rules Indefinitely
  19. USGS Analysis on Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources in Alaska
  20. USGS, USACE, NOAA Sign Memorandum of Understanding on Water
  21. FWS Releases National Plan to Fight White-Nose Syndrome
  22. NSF Releases Strategic Plan through 2016
  23. DOE Releases Strategic Plan for 2011
  24. Leadership Changes at Commerce, USDA

  25. ***Other News and Updates***
  26. Tornadoes: Large Number Spawned in U.S.
  27. Nuclear Waste Debate Continues in U.S. and Elsewhere
  28. Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Issues Request for Proposal
  29. UK Finds No Evidence to Support "Climategate" Allegations
  30. California District to Teach "Multiple Perspectives" on Climate Change
  31. AGI Releases 2011 Status of the Geoscience Workforce
  32. Geoscientists Participate in Congressional Science Fair
  33. AGI Welcomes New AAPG/AGI Summer Intern
  34. Key Reports and Publications
  35. Key Federal Register Notices
  36. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Call for Geoscientists to Attend GEO-CVD in September

The American Geological Institute (AGI), in collaboration with many other geoscience societies, invites geoscientists to come to Washington, DC for the annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (GEO-CVD) on September 20-21, 2011. Decision makers need to hear from geoscientists. Become a citizen geoscientist and join many of your colleagues for this two-day event uniting geoscience researchers, professionals, students, educators, engineers, and executives in Washington, DC to raise visibility and support for the geosciences.

A constructive visit from citizen geoscientists about the importance and value of geoscience (and geoscience-related engineering) research and education is the most effective way to inform and impact federal science policy.

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 2. US, UK Issue a Joint Statement on Education, Science, and Innovation

As part of his tour through Europe in May, President Obama met with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom (UK) and released a joint statement on education, science, and innovation collaboration. The statement points out that the United States and the UK are clear leaders in global scientific research and home to the world’s top ten universities. “Recognizing the great potential for productive cooperation in these domains, the Prime Minister and President reaffirmed during the State visit their mutual commitment to strong collaboration in science and higher education and agreed to work to increase the number of joint endeavors,” the statement reads.

As an example of the collaborations to come, the two leaders highlighted the recent memorandum of understanding on space weather between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK Meteorological Office. The two agencies will set-up a 24/7 space weather warning center and develop an improved model of space weather.  Areas of stated collaboration include “Space Science and Exploration, Clean Energy and Climate Science, Food Security, Health and Wellbeing, Innovation and Growth”. An addendum to the statement mentions collaborations in clean energy and climate science that will include a National Science Foundation project on Sustainable Materials for Energy.

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 3. Obama Administration Announces Plans to Cut Billions in Regulations

As part of a promise made in January to eliminate unnecessary or duplicative regulations from 30 federal agencies and departments, the Obama Administration released in May draft proposals from agencies. As an example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposes to eliminate the need for air pollution vapor recovery systems at local gas stations because many modern vehicles have air pollution control technologies. This would save $670 million over the next decade. The website is accepting public comments on the proposals until these plans are finalized later this year.

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 4. Update on Appropriations for FY 2012

The House Committee on Appropriations released budget allocations and a schedule for subcommittee appropriations markups in May (see press release for details and links). The budget allocations (PDF of allocations) are based on the House Budget Committee resolution from April (text of resolution in Thomas) and would cut about $46 billion from the non-security discretionary funding compared to fiscal year (FY) 2011. The Commerce, Justice, Science suballocation would be $50.2 billion (-$3 billion compared to FY2011 and -$7.4 billion compared to the President’s request), the Energy and Water suballocation would be $30.6 billion (-$1 billion compared to FY2011 and -$5.9 billion compared to the President’s request), the Interior, Environment suballocation would be $27.5 billion (-$2 billion compared to FY2011 and -$3.8 billion compared to the President’s request) and the Labor, Health, Education suballocation would be $139.2 billion (-$18.2 billion compared to FY2011 and -$41.6 billion compared to the President’s request).

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) hopes to complete 9 of 12 subcommittee appropriation bills by August 5 with the consideration of remaining bills in September after the August recess. The schedule may make it difficult to complete FY 2012 appropriations in time because the House bills will need to be reconciled with the Senate bills and the schedule does not seem to provide much time for such considerations.

Among the measures of most interest to the geosciences community, the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill will be considered in subcommittee on June 2 and full committee on June 15, the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies will be considered in subcommittee on July 6 and full committee on July 13, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies will be considered in subcommittee on July 7 and full committee on July 13 and the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies will be considered in subcommittee on July 26 and full committee on August 2.

The Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) issued a statement on May 19 indicating that the committee would defer a budget mark-up on their resolution until high-level bipartisan negotiations are completed. There was a “gang of six” senators working on a bipartisan compromise on appropriations. The gang included Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), Saxby Chambliss (R-SC), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). In May, Senator Coburn announced that he was leaving the gang of six for the moment and it is unclear whether the remaining gang of five will be able to develop a compromise. Vice President Joe Biden has been working with a bicameral and bipartisan group to reach a compromise on budgetary negotiations in relation to the debt ceiling vote coming up in August. The Biden group includes House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Ranking Member on the House Budget Committee Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

While it looks like appropriations for FY 2012 will be delayed until December of 2011, there should be some compromise on some major budgetary negotiations in August because Congress will need to consider legislation on raising the national debt ceiling. One should expect fireworks to continue long after the Fourth of July on Capitol Hill.

Thomas maintains a FY 2012 appropriations page that provides links to bills and notice of congressional actions.

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 5. Oil and Gas Bills Move as Hearings Debate Concerns

In a month of debate about oil subsidies and high gas prices, May inspired many members of Congress to introduce fossil fuel related legislation amid a bevy of oil and gas hearings.

Introduced in April, all three of Congressman Doc Hastings’s (R-WA) oil and gas bills passed the House in May and await consideration in the Senate. The Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act (H.R. 1229), the Restarting America’s Offshore Leasing Now Act (H.R. 1230), and the Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act (H.R. 1231)  passed with strong support of the Republican majority and several moderate Democrats.

After the three offshore drilling bills passed in the House, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) put his own offshore drilling bill, the Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011 (S. 953), on the floor for a vote but a majority voted against a motion to consider the bill.

In May, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced the Oil and Gas Facilitation Act (S. 916) and the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act (S. 917). Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who often works with Chairman Bingaman on energy-related legislation before it is introduced in committee, did not cosponsor these bills even though a similar Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act passed the committee last Congress. The bills were scheduled to be discussed at a committee’s mark up in late May, but the two bills were removed from the agenda and will be considered at a later date. 

There were three hearings on oil and gas extraction technologies. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to discuss the draft Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) study on hydrofracturing, known as “fracking.” As the lone witness in the second panel, Dr. Paul Anastas defended the scope of the proposed study from Republican members who were discouraged to see that the scope includes the “full lifespan” of fracking fluids.  Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and others accused the EPA of hindering natural gas development because of an environmental concern that may not exist. Anastas had to repeatedly answer that there has been no confirmed case of drinking water contamination due to hydrofracturing.

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a field hearing called, “Pathways to Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing and Other New Technologies.” The witness panel was in agreement that fracking was an established and safe technique that could increase profits and domestic energy production. The hearing was held in Bakersfield, CA and Chairman Issa was joined by Bakersfield’s Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) who called Bakersfield “West Texas with mountains in the background and a few degrees cooler.”

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing in May “to receive testimony on new developments in upstream oil and gas technologies.” Instead of dwelling on the advantages or disadvantages of fracking, the hearing focused on new exploration and production techniques such as enhanced oil recovery methods, directional drilling, extended reach and geosteering.

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 6. More Critical Minerals Bills Introduced

After soliciting public comments last month, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 (S. 1113) to facilitate the reestablishment of a critical minerals industry, workforce, and research and development capabilities in the United States. The critical minerals include the rare earth elements, yttrium, scandium, cobalt, helium, phosphate, potash, lead, and thorium. The bill has bipartisan support from 16 senate co-sponsors; however, it has not been embraced by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). He is concerned with some of the bill’s mining provisions that expedite permitting for extraction and exploration. 

Doug Lamborn (R-CO), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals in the Committee on Natural Resources has introduced a bill (H.R. 2011) to assess the nation’s capability to meet current and future demands for critical minerals. “The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011” directs the Secretary of the Interior (the Secretary) to prepare a report assessing the non-fossil-fuel mineral potential of land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service. The report would detail the required permitting steps and identify measures to streamline the processing of the applications. One provision would require the Secretary to assess the number of federal employees with educational degrees or experience in geology, geochemistry, mining, industrial minerals, metallurgy, metallurgical engineering, and mining engineering and compare the existing federal salaries with those offered in the mining industry. The bill is cosponsored by Doc Hastings (R-WA), chairman of the full committee.

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 7. Senator Tester Proposes Mine Reclamation Measure

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has reintroduced legislation to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (30 U.S.C. 1235(l)). His bill, S.1003, would limit the liability of a state performing reclamation work under an approved state abandoned mine reclamation plan. This is a replica of a bill (S.3252) that Tester introduced in the last Congress.

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 8. Arizona Legislators Sponsor Copper Mine Bill

Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has introduced the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 (H.R. 1904) to facilitate the construction of a large copper mine in Pinal County, Arizona. The bill would aid the transfer of roughly 2,400 acres of federal land on which lies a large undeveloped copper deposit to Resolution Copper Company in exchange for 5,300 acres of company property. Officials from Resolution Copper and supporters of the bill say the company land has a high conservation value and would provide thousands of acres of riparian area to public land. A compromise version of this bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 111th Congress and has had bipartisan support in the past. The new bill has been cosponsored by only the Arizona Republicans in the House however, and will likely face opposition from Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) who sits on the House Natural Resources committee with Gosar and is a staunch conservationist. 

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 9. Rare Earth Amendments Attached to Defense Authorization Bill

After introducing stand-alone legislation (H.R. 1388) in April, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) is attempting to address the rare earth materials shortage through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540). The first amendment to the authorization act, which passed in May, would require the Administrator of Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials to submit to the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) a plan to establish a stockpile of rare earth materials. The second requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on the feasibility and desirability of recycling rare earth elements used by the department. DOD rare earth consumption, about 5% of the nation's use, helps build a wide range of technologies from "smart" bombs to complex computer systems. This is the first rare earth related language to pass the House this Congress and has a good chance of becoming the first to pass into law.

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 10. Carbon Capture and Sequestration Bills Introduced and Marked Up

Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Enzi (R-WY), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) have introduced legislation to award cash prizes to researchers who develop and implement technologies to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A similar version of the bill (S. 757) was previously introduced last Congress , but never made it passed the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  Bingaman and Barrasso have also teamed up on a related piece of legislation (S. 699) which would establish a program within the Department of Energy to institute ten commercial-scale carbon capture and sequestration projects. On May 26, both bills were amended and passed in committee.

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 11. Bill to Analyze Impacts of EPA Regulations Offered

Representatives John Sullivan (R-OK) and Jim Matheson (D-UT) introduced the Transparency in Regulation Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act of 2011 (H.R. 1705) in May. The TRAIN Act would form a committee to analyze the economic impacts of covered rules and actions undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on energy and manufacturing in the United States. Specific rules regulated by the EPA to be considered by the committee include hazardous air pollutants emissions standards, air quality standards, and waste management rules. The committee would also analyze the impacts of any actions undertaken by the EPA under the Clean Air Act (42 USC 7411) to combat climate change as a result of the 2009 endangerment finding. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

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 12. Senator Burr Proposes Department of Energy and Environment

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation this May that would create the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) by effectively combining the Department of Energy (DOE) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Consolidation of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency Act of 2011 (S. 892) is being touted as a shrewd way of providing savings and streamlining a coordinated approach to the administration of energy and environmental policies.  As part of the transition, there would be a reduction of funding for oil and gas research and development (R&D), energy technology development (including the Advanced Research Program Agency – Energy), a repeal of ultra-deepwater and unconventional on-shore natural gas R&D, and a prohibition on refurbishing the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center. Major EPA programs that would be reduced include multiple water-related grants and pollution control programs while local government climate change grants, diesel emissions reduction grants, and target watershed infrastructure grants would all be terminated. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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 13. Bill to Strike 43 Educational Programs from ESEA Marked Up

Legislation (H.R. 1891) sponsored by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to eliminate 43 programs under the Elementary and Secondary Elementary Education Act (ESEA) was introduced and passed by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in May. The “Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act” eliminates numerous programs already defunded in the 2011 continuing resolution and the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request plus several other deemed to be duplicative or ineffective. No programs under Title 2, Part B or D which cover math, science, and technology grants were singled out. The bill was passed on a party-line vote.

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 14. Bipartisan Oceans Bill Introduced in the Senate

A bipartisan group of senators have introduced the National Endowment for the Oceans Act (H.R. 973) to establish an endowment to fund research and conservation efforts on the country’s oceans, coastal areas, and Great Lakes. The endowment would receive funds from revenue generated by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, offshore energy development, and a portion of the fines collected for violations of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1321) and other environmental laws. About 50 percent of the total endowment would be used for the Secretary of the Treasury to make grants to coastal states. Half of these funds would be reserved for states with coastal management programs while the other half of these funds would be allocated based on shore length and on coastal population density.  Around 20 percent of the endowment’s funds would be allocated to regional planning bodies to develop and implement regional strategic plans to monitor, assess, and describe the region’s ocean, coastal, or Great Lake ecosystems. Finally, the last 30 percent of the endowment’s funds would be made available under a competitive National Grant Program for Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes. The types of entities eligible for grants in this program include coastal states, non-coastal states, tribes, regional agencies, fishery or wildlife management organizations, nonprofits, and academic institutions. If the sum of the amount to be transferred and deposited to the endowment for any given year is less than $100 million, then this legislation would authorize the amount necessary to reach a minimum of $100 million. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

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 15. Flood Insurance Reauthorization Passes Finance Committee

Representative Judy Biggert’s (R-IL) legislation, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 1309), to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years has unanimously passed the House Financial Services Committee and awaits consideration of the full House. NFIP, a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was first authorized in 1968 and makes federally backed flood insurance available to business owners, homeowners, and renters in floodplain communities. The program is responsible for identifying and mapping the nation’s floodplains and the Federal Emergency Management Administration is in the midst of revising flood plain maps across the country.

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 16. Bill to Expand Hydrographic Services in the Arctic Introduced

Representative Don Young (R-AK) has introduced a bill (H.R. 295) to amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 (32 USC 892). The amendment would authorize $5 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire new hydrographic data, perform hydrographic services, review coastal change to ensure safe navigation, and improve management of coastal change in the Arctic.  An additional $2 million would be authorized to improve hydrographic data necessary to delineate the United States extended continental shelf. In May, Captain John Lowell, Director of the Office of Coastal Survey at NOAA, testified before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs in support of Young’s bill. Captain Lowell told the subcommittee, “NOAA’s hydrographic services are an essential component of an open Arctic where conservation, management, and use are based on sound science to support U.S. economic growth and resilient and viable ecosystems and communities.”

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 17. EPA Delays Boiler Emissions Rules Indefinitely

In a move pleasing industry groups around the country, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to delay indefinitely its emissions limits on large industrial boilers. An amendment to the Clean Air Act added in 1990 requires the EPA to limit toxic emissions from boilers including mercury and acid gases but it was only in February 2011 when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed the requirements. Receiving harsh criticism for the proposed standards, EPA tried to delay issuing the rules in January of 2011 but was ordered by a federal court to issue the rules by President’s Day.  The rules issued on February 23, 2011 were a substantially scaled back version to the draft rules proposed in 2010.

Even so, industry leaders argued that three years was not enough time to economically prepare for the new regulations. Normally, the Clean Air Act requires new toxic pollution levels to become legally binding within three years. In a letter to EPA, the American Forest and Paper Association, the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers and others suggested staying the rules under the Administrative Procedure Act. In May, Jackson granted the stay to delay the regulations indefinitely and begin a reconsideration period to receive another round of public comments. "The stay will allow the agency to seek additional public comment before requiring thousands of facilities across multiple, diverse industries to make investments that may not be reversible if the standards are revised following reconsideration and a full evaluation of all relevant data," EPA said in a statement. The delay will continue until either judicial review of the rules is completed or EPA completes its reconsideration of the rules. Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments here by July 15, 2011.

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 18. USGS Analysis on Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources in Alaska

In May, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a new analysis of economically recoverable oil and gas resources in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA). The analysis was based on a 2010 assessment of technically recoverable oil and gas resources which estimated 900 million barrels of oil (bbl) and an impressive 53 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. The report, Economic Analysis of the 2010 U.S. Geological Survey Assessment of the Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, estimates different amounts of resources that are recoverable at different market prices. For a market price of $8 per thousand cubic feet of gas, the NPRA could yield 18 tcf of gas. When the market price is $10 per thousand cubic feet, economic natural gas resources in the NPRA nearly double to 32 tcf. For oil, 273 million bbl are economically recoverable at an oil price of $72 per barrel and 500 million bbl at $90 per barrel. These estimates are based on technologies used in 2010 and may change due to innovations in extraction, transportation, or discovery methods. The study assumes a 10- and 20-year delay between discovery and development of production since no pipeline exists from the North Slope of Alaska.

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 19. USGS, USACE, NOAA Sign Memorandum of Understanding on Water

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to coordinate services and information for water resources. The Collaborative Science, Services and Tools to Support Integrated and Adaptive Water Resources Management MOU will create high-resolution forecasts for water supply and provide a water resources database public portal to support managers and decision-makers. The three federal agencies have been working together closely for many years and have provided in the MOU an option for other federal agencies or partners to join in the partnership.  “This initiative will leverage each agency's expertise to improve water resource forecasts and facilitate informed decisions, all utilizing the best available science," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. "This marks a step forward in providing tailored, easily accessible and usable water information services to the people who need it."

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 20. FWS Releases National Plan to Fight White-Nose Syndrome

First reported in Albany, NY in 2006, the mysterious white-nose syndrome has since killed more than a million bats in eastern North America. Named for the fungus that is visible as a fuzz on the muzzles, ears, and wing membranes of infected bats, the disease has spread rapidly outward from New York and can be found as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina. The outbreak has invigorated bat research and a recent report shows that bats’ appetite for insects saves the United States agricultural industry $3 billion per year. Still, significant questions, such as how the disease actually kills bats or how the fungus spreads, have yet to be answered. The Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service has now released a national plan to coordinate a strategy of investigating the cause and finding a means of preventing the spread of the disease. Titled The National Plan for Assisting States, Tribes, and Federal Agencies in Managing White-Nose Syndrome in Bats, the report was compiled by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense (Army Corps of Engineers), the Department of Agriculture, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and state agencies in Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia. More information about white-nose syndrome can be found here.

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 21. NSF Releases Strategic Plan through 2016

The National Science Foundation (NSF) released its strategic plan for 2011 through 2016 in May. Titled “Empowering the Nation through Discovery and Innovation,” the plan builds on previous strategic plans and refines and refocuses NSF’s vision statement and strategic goals. At the core of the plan are three strategic goals that NSF hopes to achieve through smaller steps listed in the document. The three overarching goals are to transform the frontiers of science, innovate for society, and to perform as a model organization.

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 22. DOE Releases Strategic Plan for 2011

While defending its $30 billion fiscal year 2012 budget request on Capitol Hill in May, the Department of Energy also released its 2011 strategic plan. The strategic plan is not meant to be seen as a national energy policy but as a strategy focused on the capabilities and goals of the department. The document lists four broad goals and then defines them by a series of smaller goals. The large initiatives are to catalyze the timely and efficient transformation of the nation’s energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies, maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering, enhance nuclear security, and establish an operational and adaptable management framework. Geoscientists will be essential in helping the department find ways to reduce the risk and cost of carbon sequestration and geothermal energy, two large steps in transforming the nation’s energy into clean energy technologies.

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 23. Leadership Changes at Commerce, USDA

After announcing that Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce, will be the next ambassador to China, President Obama has selected John Bryson to lead the department. Bryson was the chief executive officer at Edison Electric Company, cofounded the National Resources Defense Council and served on a United Nation’s advisory group on energy and climate change.

Kathryn D. Sullivan has been appointed by President Barack Obama to be the assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sullivan returns to NOAA to direct work in areas of satellites, ocean observation, space weather, water, integrated mapping services, and climate science and services. She has previously served as an astronaut, an oceanographer for the U.S. Navy, a member of the National Science Board, and as chief scientist at NOAA.

After directing the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) since its inception, Roger Beachy resigned in May to return to Washington University in St. Louis. Beachy was appointed by President Obama to run the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service which transformed into NIFA in 2010. As part of the United States Department of Agriculture, NIFA provides grants to researchers studying ways of making American agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable.  Chavondra Jacobs-Young will serve as acting director.

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 24. Tornadoes: Large Number Spawned in U.S.

The year 2011 has seen a record number of tornadoes spawned throughout the continental United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA; tornado information), about 1,314 tornadoes have been confirmed at the end of May (compare to the average number over the past decade of 1,274 per year). There were 875 tornadoes in April, 2011, which is a new record for a month (the previous monthly record was 524 in May 2003, the previous April record was 267 in 1974 and the average number per month over the past decade is 161). At least four tornadoes in 2011 have been rated at a maximum intensity of EF-5, using the Enhanced-Fujita scale. An EF-5 indicates wind speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour, which is based on damage estimates as there is no feasible way to measure maximum wind speeds during tornadoes.

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 that was about 0.75 miles wide and had a track of about six miles long hit the city of Joplin (population: 49,024) in Missouri. The tornado caused 142 fatalities, 750 injuries and 29 unaccounted for as of May 30, 2011. According to NOAA, this tornado is the deadliest since modern recordkeeping began in 1950 and the eighth deadliest in the United States. The deadliest tornado on record in the U.S. was on March 18, 1925.  The “Tri-State Tornado” (MO, IL, and IN) had a 291-mile path, was rated F5, and caused 695 fatalities.  

The National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) highlighted southwest Missouri for the potential for severe weather several days before Sunday's storm. SPC issued a tornado watch more than four hours in advance of the tornado touching down. The NWS Springfield forecast office issued a tornado warning with a lead time of 24 minutes for Joplin at 5:17 p.m. (local time). 

The high number of fatalities and injuries in Joplin has been attributed to a direct hit of a high intensity tornado on a densely populated area and the tornado hitting on a late Sunday afternoon when more people were out. Other factors may include complacency or ignoring severe weather warnings, taking the wrong actions for protection and perhaps even the increasing use of mobile homes that offer little to no protection and can even inflict more damage during an EF-5 tornado.

Engineering can mitigate some losses. Building a safe room in a home or next to a home can save lives and limit injuries. More interior walls for larger structures, more secure connections and better windows can reduce damage and loss. Monolithic domes and related structures may also offer protection and such structures have been built as homes, buildings and emergency shelters, in some cases with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The National Storm Shelter Association continues to work on standards and certifications for storm-resistant building structures in concert with FEMA and other federal agencies. Engineering research continues at private companies, universities and federal agencies. Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center receives federal support for research from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy among a host of cutting edge university research centers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) operates a National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program within the Disaster Resilient Structures and Communities Portal, but the program has received little support from Congress and has limited funding to conduct research on wind hazard mitigation. According to NIST, windstorm damage losses exceed $10 billion annually in the United States and the NIST Wind Engineering main page lists steps that could be taken to reduce costs and damage. The program would be re-authorized in the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011 (introduced in the Senate, S.646 by California Senators Boxer and Feinstein and introduced in the House, H.R. 1379 by Congressman David Wu (D-OR)).

Meteorological and climatic conditions are being considered to explain the large number and high intensity of tornadoes in the first half of 2011, but also to understand the origin of tornadoes and improve warnings. Climate change caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions cannot be directly connected to tornado activity because tornadoes are too small in scale and time to be considered in climate models or data correlations. Tornadoes form in thunderstorms and thunderstorms need moisture, instability and wind shear. While climate change may increase instability and moisture on broad scales, it may also decrease wind shear, so not only are the scales different but the parameters conducive to tornado formation may offset each other if climate change has an effect.

Oscillations in warm (El Nino events) and cold (La Nina events) water patterns in the equatorial Pacific Ocean show a weak association with tornado activity in the continental U.S.  There have been more tornadoes at the end of a La Nina cycle in some years, but there is limited physical understanding of the correlation. Some meteorologists suggest that the end of a La Nina moves the jet stream further north over the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes leading to more thunderstorms conducive to tornado formation to the south. Again the spatial and temporal scales of El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO) are much larger than the scales of tornadoes making it difficult to correlate the physical processes.

In addition recordkeeping and observations of tornadoes has only become more systematic since about the 1950s so there is not enough data to establish any statistically significant trends that could be linked to physical processes. Improved understanding of the origin of tornadoes, trends in tornado activity and other factors are sorely needed to improve weather forecasts and reduce false alarms (it should be noted that the term false alarm is a bit of misnomer as these alarms are actually warnings that a tornado could form). False alarms account for about 70 percent of warnings and likely contribute to people ignoring or being complacent about warnings.

NOAA has a useful page on severe weather that describes tornadoes, other severe weather effects and links to other NOAA services. NOAA’s National Severe Storm Laboratory has a tutorial on tornadoes and what to do to for protection in a tornado warning. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has a FAQ about all aspects of tornadoes.

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 25. Nuclear Waste Debate Continues in U.S. and Elsewhere

Japan continues to struggle with its severely damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Reactors 1, 2 and 3 where the fuel cores have melted remain unstable though a full meltdown has not occurred. Tokyo Electric Power Company hopes to have the reactors under control by January 2012; however, outside experts are growing more uncertain about this time table. Smaller incidents such as the removal of two workers with radiation exposure, an oil leak near reactors 5 and 6 and an explosion near reactor 4 continue to cause concern in Japan and abroad. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a draft assessment on June 1, indicating that Japan had underestimated the tsunami danger and had inadequate safety measures. IAEA maintains an update page on Fukushima’s status.

After significant public protests and election defeats, the German government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany will phase out nuclear power plants in the country by 2022. Eight suspended reactors will not be restarted and the other 9 working reactors will be phased out over time. Germany gets about 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. The fraction will be replaced by a 10 percent reduction in consumption and a 35 percent increase in renewable energy resources. In the United States, policymakers continue to debate nuclear energy and nuclear waste, though the public has not expressed much sentiment.

In May, the Institute for Policy Studies released a report entitled Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage that provoked lots of media attention and concern by its title alone. The report notes that U.S. nuclear power plants have generated about 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel and 75 percent of this spent fuel is stored in pools. The authors recommend that spent fuel older than 5 years be transferred to dry, hardened storage casks that are safer than pools for longer term storage. This would cost between $3.5 and $7 billion and take about 10 years. The funds could be derived from a 0.4 cent per kilowatt-hour fee to nuclear power consumers or taken from the $18.1 billion collected for waste storage as part of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The idea of transferring spent fuel from pools to dry storage is consistent with recommendations from a 2005 National Academies report.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released two reports on spent fuel scenarios if Yucca Mountain is terminated, one on Commercial Nuclear Waste and one on DOE Nuclear Waste. The GAO reports note that commercial nuclear power has generated 65,000 metric tons plus 2,000 metric tons per year in the future at current rates. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Navy are furthermore responsible for 13,000 metric tons of spent fuel from research and naval operations and much of this is in pools. DOE estimates additional costs of $918 million (2010 constant dollars) to maintain current storage facilities or add more storage from 2020-2040.

Since 1983, DOE has spent $15 billion ($9.5 billion from the waste fund) on the evaluation and license application for the Yucca Mountain geologic waste repository and Congress has appropriated an additional $5 billion for Yucca Mountain activities. There is about $25 billion (2010 constant dollars) in the waste fund as of March 2011 while almost $1 billion has been paid out to companies suing the government for delays in opening a permanent geologic repository. The GAO report notes that the termination of Yucca Mountain means longer term temporary storage and there are no alternatives being considered.

Congress continues to grapple with nuclear waste storage in hearings and legislation. Many oppose the termination of the Yucca Mountain geologic waste repository and no legislation has been introduced that would allow the termination of Yucca Mountain. While DOE has proceeded with termination because the President has ended funding for the project, it will require an act of Congress to change the law. Instead several bills (Roadmap for America’s Energy Future, H.R. 909, and the No More Excuses Energy Act of 2011, H.R. 1023) have been introduced that would force Yucca Mountain to move forward.

The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future released a draft report suggesting an independent federal agency develop one or more new interim or permanent storage facilities in communities that would accept these projects. The draft report elicited stronger criticism from policymakers opposed to terminating Yucca Mountain. For now, it appears that Congress and the Administration will await the final report of the commission before taking any further action.

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 26. Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Issues Request for Proposal

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) has completed its proposal and review plan and will begin to consider research proposals in May 2011. BP committed $500 million to research regarding the effects and response of the Gulf to the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After releasing about $50 million soon after the spill, there was an outcry from Gulf State governors about where the funds were going. The GRI was set-up in response to complaints and will ensure that much of the funding remains in the Gulf States. The first RFP, designated RFP 1, is devoted to the selection of research consortia, defined as four or more academic or research institutions, and will distribute a total of $37.5 million per year. Although yet to be released, RFP 2 will fund individual or collaborative (three or fewer academic or research institutions) efforts at a total of $7.5 million per year. Research consortia must include an academic or research institution in a Gulf State (Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana) though an outside member may be a member or participate in a partnership “to the extent required to ensure the delivery of high-quality scientific studies in fulfillment of the objectives and ultimate goal of the GRI.”

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 27. UK Finds No Evidence to Support "Climategate" Allegations

Climate skeptics have pointed to the thousands of stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) as evidence that scientists manipulated data and silenced differing opinions. Reviews by Pennsylvania State University, the Associated Press, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Inspector General, and many others have cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing. In May, the British Government’s Office for Science reported to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that “no events at CRU undermine the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.”

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 28. California School District Votes to Teach "Multiple Perspectives" on Climate Change

In a unanimous decision, the Los Alamitos Unified School district trustees agreed to require teachers who teach classes with controversial material to teach “multiple perspectives.” This is largely aimed at the Orange County, California school’s advanced placement environmental science course which covers climate change. "There are two clearly divergent opinions on global warming," said Jeffrey Barke, the trustee who requested the provision. "There are those who believe that global warming is a fact, created by man's impact on the environment and the consequences will be devastating. There are others on the conservative side who believe it is much ado about nothing. It is overhyped and politically motivated, and the science is not solid, and there's room for more studies."

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 29. AGI Releases 2011 Status of the Geoscience Workforce

The American Geological Institute’s (AGI) Status of the Geoscience Workforce Report for 2011 was released in late May.  The report provides a statistical synopsis of trends in geoscience education at the K-12 level, in community colleges, and at four-year institutions.  The report outlines trends in student transitions to the workforce including salaries and skills used.  Metrics and drivers of the geoscience workforce such as funding for research, commodity pricing, and productive activity of industries are also analyzed.

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 30. Geoscientists Participate in Congressional Science Fair

Three geoscientists, sponsored by the American Geological Institute (AGI), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and the Geological Society of America (GSA), came to Washington in May to impart to lawmakers the value of their research, its impacts on society and the importance of federal funding for basic research. In addition to meeting with their senators’ and congressmen’s staff, Dr. Chris Reddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Timothy Bralower of Pennsylvania State University, and Dr. David James of the Carnegie Institution of Washington also presented their federally funded research at the seventeenth annual Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) Exhibition and Reception on May 11. The exhibit drew nearly 300 attendees and five Members of Congress. Congressmen Rush Holt (D-NJ), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and Glen Thompson (R-PA) were particularly interested in the three geoscience projects and the geoscientists engaged with the lawmakers about their research. Pictures of the event can be found on the Government Affairs events page.

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 31. AGI Welcomes New AAPG/AGI Summer Intern

Lauren Herwehe will be joining the American Geological Institute (AGI) as a Geoscience and Policy Intern for the summer of 2011.  Lauren received her Bachelor of Science degree in Geosciences and Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography in May 2011 from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).  She graduated as a Schreyer Scholar and EMSAGE Laureate and received the GEMS Diamond Award for outstanding involvement in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.  She completed her senior thesis on the hydrogeology of acid mine drainage with Dr. Kamini Singha and spent a summer in Germany as a research assistant studying landscape development due to climate change.  She studied abroad for a semester in Ghana and has done research projects in West Philadelphia, Bulgaria, and India.  At Penn State she volunteered as a high school math tutor, education abroad Peer Advisor, and language partner. She looks forward to working with AGI and learning about the relationship between geosciences and public policy.

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 32. Key Reports and Publications

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***
America’s Climate Choices
This report stresses the need for the federal government to act now to put strong policies and incentives in place to combat the effects of climate change. Acknowledging that climate change is occurring, the report says acting now will reduce the risks produced by climate change and the pressure to make large, rapid reductions later. It lists many “common sense” investments including a strong investment in scientific research and infrastructure.

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
Recovery Act: Preliminary Observations on the Use of Funds for Clean and Drinking Water Projects
Prepared for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, this document reports data from nine states to characterize how funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. L. 111-5) were spent nationwide on clean and drinking water infrastructure. Overall, all fifty states have awarded and obligated their recovery funds which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) distributed from its Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and its Drinking Water SRF. The nine states studied reported a rise in created full-time equivalent jobs which helped to build 419 major infrastructure projects as part of more than 3000 nationwide. Some state officials complained that the money came with unrealistic requirements including one that required 20% of the funds to be used on “green” projects. State officials pointed out that when monies are not repaid into the revolving fund, the reuse of funds is reduced and the purpose of the revolving SRF program changes from primarily providing loans for investments in water infrastructure to providing grants.

Commercial Nuclear Waste: Effects of a Termination of the Yucca Mountain Repository Program and Lessons Learned
At the request of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), this report investigates the effects of terminating the Yucca Mountain spent fuel repository program which the Department of Energy (DOE) has begun to do. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, requires DOE to store commercial nuclear waste in a depository at Yucca Mountain, NV though DOE has taken steps since 2010 to close down the site. This document looks at the steps DOE has taken to terminate the repository and their effects, the major impacts if the site is terminated, and the principle lessons learned.

Catastrophic Planning: States Participating in FEMA’s Pilot Program Made Progress, but Better Guidance Could Enhance Future Pilot Programs
As a result of the lessons learned from the national response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress appropriated $1.8 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be given to preparedness grant programs. The Task Force for Emergency Readiness (TFER) was a pilot program begun in 2008 to grant $1.75 million to Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia. Though the results of the report show that these states made limited progress in their response capabilities, it is interesting to note that four out the five states that participated planned around a potentially devastating hurricane or earthquake. 

Recovery Act: Preliminary Observations on the Use of Funds for Clean and Drinking Water Projects
Prepared for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, this document reports data from nine states to characterize how funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. L. 111-5) were spent nationwide on clean and drinking water infrastructure. Overall, all fifty states have awarded and obligated their recovery funds which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) distributed from its Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and its Drinking Water SRF. The nine states studied reported a rise in created full-time equivalent jobs which helped to build 419 major infrastructure projects as part of more than 3000 nationwide. Some state officials complained that the money came with unrealistic requirements including one that required 20% of the funds to be used on “green” projects. State officials pointed out that when monies are not repaid into the revolving fund, the reuse of funds is reduced and the purpose of the revolving SRF program changes from primarily providing loans for investments in water infrastructure to providing grants.

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 33. Key Federal Register Notices

EPA, USACE - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are publishing for public comment proposed guidance that describes how the agencies will identify waters protected by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (Clean Water Act or CWA or Act) and implement the Supreme Court's decisions on this topic. Comments are due on or before July 1, 2011. [Monday, May 2, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 84)]

EPA – There will be a meeting of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology on May 19 and 20 in Washington, DC. The agenda, meeting location, and further details can be found in the notice. [Monday, May 2, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 85)]

BOEMRE – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is soliciting comments from the public on rules and regulations to administer leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Instructions on submitting comments, due on July 12, can be found in the notice. [Friday, May 13, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 93)]

EPA – There will be a meeting of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Act Advisory Committee on June 7 and 8 in Washington, DC.  Further details as well as the meeting time and location can be found in the notice. [Friday, May 13, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 93)]

BOEMRE – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced the revision of rules governing noncompetitive acquisition of an Outer Continental Shelf renewable energy lease which will make the process of acquiring a lease consistent between unsolicited requests and requests initiated by BOEMRE.  Details can be found in the notice. [Monday, May 16, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 94)]

EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board will hold a public teleconference to review the EPA’s Draft Oil Spill Research Strategy.  It will be held on June 9 and will be conducted by telephone only. [Monday, May 16, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 94)]

NSF – The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking comments on its plans to request reinstatement and approval of the NSF Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities.  Comments should be received by July 5. [Monday, May 16, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 94)]

USGS – The United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Geospatial Advisory Committee will hold a general meeting on June 8 and 9.  Members of the public who wish to attend must register by June 3. The meeting time, location, agenda, and further details can be found on the group’s webpage or in the notice. [Tuesday, May 17, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 95)]

EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized confidentiality determinations for data requirements covered by the Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule.  The action also finalizes special rules on information gained from the Clean Air Act. The action is effective July 25 and additional details can be found in the notice [Thursday, May 26, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 102)]

NSF – The National Science Foundation (NSF) will hold a meeting to discuss NSF funding for unsolicited mid-scale research.  The meetings will be held on June 6 and 7.  Additional information on what will be covered and the time and location of the meeting can be found on the group’s webpage and in the notice. [Thursday, May 26, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 102)]

DOI – The Office of Natural Resources Revenue of the Department of the Interior is soliciting comments and suggestions from the public regarding proposed changes to existing regulations that govern the valuation of coal produced from Federal and Indian leases.  Further details can be found in the notice. [Friday, May 27, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 103)]

DOI – The Office of Natural Resources Revenue of the Department of Interior is soliciting comments and suggestions from the public regarding proposed changes to existing regulations that govern the valuation of oil and gas from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.  Further information can be found in the notice. [Friday, May 27, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 103)]

NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will be holding a meeting of the Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council to discuss the Decadal Survey and the Fiscal Year 2011 report.  The meeting will be held by phone on June 22.  Additional details including the agenda and meeting time can be found in the notice. [Wednesday, June 1, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 105)]

NSF – The National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering will be holding a general meeting on June 13 and 14. Further details including the agenda and meeting time and location can be found in the notice. [Wednesday, June 1, 2011 (Volume 76 Number 105)]

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 34. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

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Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan and Wilson Bonner, Staff of Government Affairs Program and Lauren Herwehe, AAPG/AGI Summer Intern
Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, Science Magazine, National Academies Press, Government Accountability Office, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Congressional Research Service

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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 topics 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 govt@agiweb.org or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228. TO SUBSCRIBE OR UNSUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG

Compiled May 6, 2011.

 

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