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Monthly Review: June 2003


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

Appropriations Season Now Open
Action Alert on ANSS Funding; NEHRP Bill Introduced
Fossil Preservation Bill Gets House and Senate Hearings
Natural Gas Policy Debated at House Hearings
Senate Judiciary Committee Takes Action on Asbestos
Bill Would Remove Copyright from Federally Funded Science
Nominations Sought For Review of EPA Environment Report
NSF Seeks Comments on Strategic Plan
Challenges to Federal Water Authority
Forum Held on Carbon Sequestration
Oceans Status Report Released
NRC Reports on Everglades Water Effects
Earth Scientists Tout NSF Projects in Hill Exhibit
Fond Farewell to Margaret Anne Baker
Intern Comings and Goings
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

Appropriations Season Now Open

The fiscal year (FY) 2004 appropriations bills have begun to emerge, providing the first concrete sense of funding levels for federal agencies in the coming year. In the middle of June, the House and Senate Appropriations committee released their recommendations for the general spending levels for the 13 appropriations bills -- the so-called 302(b) allocations. The House supports $785.6 billion for total discretionary spending and the Senate supports $784.7 million for total discretionary spending. Both levels are less than the $787.1 billion that was requested in the president's budget. In the past two weeks, the House Appropriations Committee passed seven bills, including on June 25th the yet-unnumbered Interior and Related Agencies bill that funds the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy. Until the bill's report is posted, details are scarce, but USGS fared reasonably well. The committee provided $935.7 million, up $40.2 million over the president's request and $16.4 million above FY 2003 actual. The Senate should be marking up its version shortly after Congress returns from the Fourth of July recess. More information will be posted at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004.html.

Action Alert on ANSS Funding; NEHRP Bill Introduced

As reported in a June 11th action alert, House Science Subcommittee on Research Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked their colleagues to co-sign a letter of support for the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The letter, with 19 signatures, was sent to the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. Geological Survey, where ANSS is located, on June 16th. The letter requested that the committee consider a funding level of at least $10 million for ANSS, which is authorized at $35 million annually. For fiscal year 2004, the Bush Administration requested a 50 percent cut to $2 million. A copy of the Dear Colleague can be found in the AGI alert sent on this issue. The House Appropriations Committee subsequently approved a bill that would restore funding to the FY 2003 level of $3.9 million. The alert is at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/anssletter_alert0603.html.

On June 26th, Smith and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) introduced H.R. 2608, legislation to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) for the next five years. Probably the most significant change in this draft bill from previous authorizations is the removal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA; now part of the Department of Homeland Security) as lead agency to be replaced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which would chair an Interagency Coordinating Committee on Earthquake Hazard Reduction. The bill authorizes funds for the program, including $36 million per year for the USGS's Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) initiative. The bill also would establish an Advisory Committee for NEHRP that would include non-federal members. The bill emphasizes the need for better reporting and accountability for the program, including not only a strategic plan requirement but also regular assessments by the advisory committee on the program's effectiveness. Smith has pledged to work with the earthquake research community to revise the bill in preparation for a committee vote in late July. More at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/nehrp.html.

Fossil Preservation Bill Gets House and Senate Hearings

On June 25th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S. 546, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, without controversy. The bill was introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in March, and sets forth a national policy on the permitting, management, and usage of paleontological resources found on federal lands. A joint hearing was held by the House Resources Subcommittees on Fisheries and Forests on June 19th regarding Rep. James McGovern’s (D-MA) similar bill (H.R. 2416). Both H.R. 2416 and S. 546 increase criminal penalties for theft or vandalism of paleontological resources on federal lands in an effort to curb the sale of stolen fossils on the black market. Both bills also exempt casual collectors from permitting requirements, as long as their collecting is restricted to invertebrate and plant fossils, but the collection of vertebrate fossils will require permits. Additional information is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/fossils.html.

Natural Gas Policy Debated at House Hearings

During June, the House took aim at trying to mitigate the volatility in the natural gas market. On June 10th, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony about the many different approaches the US could take to alleviate market volatility: increase the amount of pipelines to transport the gas to the needed market areas, lift the moratorium from federal lands to increase drilling production, reduce demand as well as explore clean coal technology, liquefied natural gas (LNG), methane hydrate, and tight-sand gas. The most surprising comment was made by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan who stated that the US needs to increase LNG imports. Greenspan’s presence at the hearing reflected the impact of natural gas prices on the economy.

In response to Greenspan’s comments, the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a June 19th hearing to debate expanding domestic gas production or increasing LNG imports. Proponents for increasing domestic drilling said that the US needs to lift some of the restrictions on federal land leasing because they contain a great amount of gas resources. On the LNG front, the witnesses were split on what effects it would have on the market. Some felt LNG would not be a good investment because large capital costs mean that it is only profitable when gas prices are high, and it would increase the US’s foreign energy dependence. Other witnesses testified that LNG could be profitable at moderate gas prices.

On June 24th, the subcommittee held a second hearing to discuss two recent studies -- the Department of the Interior's Energy Policy and Conservation Act-mandated inventory and a RAND economic assessment of the Green River Basin -- that evaluated the amount of oil and gas resources available on federal lands in the west. Both studies show that the majority of the resources on federal lands are available for leasing, but some of the witnesses testified that the leasing process is very problematic and slow. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Rebecca Watson testified that the process is very complex, and litigation has played a major role in delaying the process. Watson also said that administratively DOI is addressing the problem and trying to increase their efficiency. More at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_hearings.html.

Senate Judiciary Committee Takes Action on Asbestos

On June 4th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine S. 1125, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution bill introduced by committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT). S. 1125 aims to "create a privately funded, publicly administered fund to provide the necessary resources for an asbestos injury claims resolution program." The bill initially established a United States Court of Asbestos Claims to deal exclusively with asbestos litigation separate from the judicial system, but this provision was later removed in the bill’s June 24 mark-up. Another highly contentious provision of the bill would have deducted money already received by the claimant through collateral sources such as Medicaid and insurance from the award granted by the court, but an amendment agreed to by Hatch and ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) negated most collateral source deductions. Amendments made to the bill on June 24th also adjust award values for inflation, double the statue of limitations, eliminate the 1982 exposure cutoff date, and ask the Institute of Medicine to investigate the link between asbestos exposure and cancer. Hatch and Leahy also agreed to "a responsible ban of asbestos related products" currently in use. On June 26th the committee adopted amendments that increased the fund to $108 billion and added provisions for a contingency plan in case the fund amount is insufficient. Hatch postponed a vote on the bill until July 10th in hopes of attaining bipartisan support. Additional hearing information is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/asbestos_hearings.html.

Bill Would Remove Copyright from Federally-funded Science

On June 27th, Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) introduced legislation (H.R. 2613) that would remove copyright protection for any research that is "substantially funded" by the federal government. The bill would expand an exemption that currently applies only to government employees. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, "Sabo's bill is part of a campaign by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians, to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource." PLoS is concerned that full access to the latest research is only available to a "privileged elite at large universities and research institutions who can afford the often exorbitant subscription fees."

The PLoS group has obtained $9 million in private foundation funding to launch an electronic journal, PLoS Biology, in October. As reported by AIBS, it "will compete with prominent publications such as Science, Nature, and Cell to publish the most significant works of biomedical research. Unlike these established journals, all works published by PLoS Biology will be immediately and freely available." Former National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus is a leading proponent of the effort along with such luminaries as James Watson and E.O. Wilson.

Although the current attention is on biomedical literature, the bill would impact other disciplines as well. And whereas the focus is on prohibitively high subscription rates charged by commercial publishers, journals also represent a significant revenue source for scientific and engineering societies. As a result, this legislation has been greeted with considerable concern by many societies. More on PLoS and the press conference at www.plos.org/news/announce_wings.html.

Nominations Sought For Review of EPA Environment Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) announced on June 26th that it is requesting nominations for a new panel intended to advise changes to the agency's "Report on the Environment," released June 23rd. The report, part of Whitman's Environmental Indicators Initiative, draws on a large volume of available data in an effort to characterize the current state of the environment and provide a "baseline" with which to measure progress. Findings were generally positive, particularly in air quality issues, although much of the response so far has focused on the omission of a quantitative statement on climate change. The Bush Administration was criticized for side-stepping the issue after the White House Office of Management and Budget pared down a draft section that described the risks of climate change. The proposed review panel will be asked to evaluate the overall scope and value to public health of the report, the completeness and relevancy of the data used, and the aptness of the stated conclusions. The first stage of the review is planned to take place in Washington, D.C., in September, 2003. The EPA requests that individuals nominated for the review panel be highly regarded, national-level experts in one or more relevant disciplines. Nominations may be submitted electronically before July 8, 2003, at www.epa.gov/sab/sab_panel_form.htm, and the report is available at www.epa.gov/indicators/.

NSF Seeks Comments on Strategic Plan

National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell released the agency's latest draft strategic plan on June 6th and is now seeking comments from the public. Under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (commonly referred to as GPRA), federal agencies are required to update their strategic plans ever three years. The NSF draft plan outlines broad goals and interdisciplinary initiatives, such as Biocomplexity in the Environment, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Information Technology Research, and Workforce for the 21st Century to name a few. One goal discussed in the plan is to strengthen the core discipline-based directorates by increasing the duration and size of grants. Public comments on the draft strategic plan can be submitted via email at stratplan@nsf.gov by July15th. Additional information and a link to the draft plan are available at www.nsf.gov/od/stratplan_03-08/draft-stratplan.htm.

Challenges to Federal Water Authority

Federal authority to regulate the nation's waters faced several challenges in June. Although a federal appeals court reaffirmed Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction over isolated wetlands, other lawsuits were filed asserting that the EPA's interpretation of "navigable" waters under its regulatory authority is overly broad, and claiming that tributaries of navigable waters should not be protected by CWA provisions. A hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment focused on the ability of states to reclassify inappropriately designated water bodies, including requests to lower CWA standards for storm waterways and to allow arid western states greater flexibility to establish water quality criteria and standards. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and its power to regulate arsenic levels survived a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of federal reach over contamination not explicitly affecting interstate commerce. The federal appeals court ruled based on procedural issues, however, leaving open the possibility that intrastate water systems could be excluded from SDWA protections in the future. More at www.agiweb.org/gap/issues/index.html#environment.

Forum Held on Carbon Sequestration

On June 23-25, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) held an inaugural meeting to set forth the "framework for an international agreement on the capturing of carbon in the atmosphere." The forum includes governmental and industrial entities from major hydrocarbon consumers and producers from around the world. According to C. Michael Smith, the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, the purpose of the forum is to define methods for energy producers to meet the demands of lower carbon dioxide emissions. The overall emphasis of the forum is on advancing the science and technology of carbon sequestration, more specifically geologic sequestration. Other issues discussed at the meeting included the cost effectiveness and the long-term environmental impact of carbon sequestration. More information can be found on the forum at www.fe.doe.gov/coal_power/cslf/cslf_factsheet.pdf.

Oceans Status Report Released

On June 4th, the Pew Oceans Commission released its report on the status of American oceans. Entitled America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, the report claims that the "oceans are in crisis and the stakes could not be higher." The commission outlined the five major elements of the crisis: coastal development and sprawl, nutrient runoff pollution, over-fishing and damaging fishing practices, the spread of invasive species, and the impact of climate change on coastal and marine ecosystems. The report's recommendations are to be met by realizing five objectives that are based on the principle that "economic sustainability depends on ecological sustainability." The primary objective is to develop and declare a comprehensive national ocean policy that would include the coordination of marine resources management at regional and watershed levels, reform in fishery management institutions and policies, management of coastal development in such a way as to minimize habitat damage, and a continuing focus on the sources of pollution. Two of the report's principal recommendations are to enact a National Ocean Policy Act and establish an independent national oceans agency. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently a part of the Commerce Department. The report also endorses doubling funding for basic ocean science research as an "investment in understanding and managing [the nation's] oceans." A copy of the report can be found at www.pewoceans.org/oceans/.

On June 26th, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed S. 1218, the Oceans and Human Health Act. Co-sponsored by the committee's ranking Democrat Fritz Hollings (SC) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the bill recognizes the enormous resources in the nation’s oceans, focusing largely on its contributions to the economy, biological and climate research, and its role in the spread of human disease. It points out that "gaps in funding, coordination, and outreach have impeded national progress in addressing ocean health issues," and recommends a "national investment in a coordinated program of research and monitoring." The purpose of the bill is to "provide for Presidential support and coordination of interagency ocean science programs" while developing an integrated and comprehensive oceans research and monitoring program. The bill passed out of committee with no controversy and can be found at thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?108:s1218:

NRC Reports on Everglades Water Effects

The National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem released a report this month on the influence of water flow on the Everglades landscape. The committee provides general assessments of restoration project science as well as specific technical advice to the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, the group in charge of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. A stated goal of the restoration plan is to "get the water right," but the physical parameters of water flow had not previously been emphasized in the plan due to a lack of data and an inability to produce accurate models. The NRC report evaluates a task force white paper on "the environmental significance, creation, maintenance, degradation, research needs, and performance measures for flow in the ridge and slough landscape." These ecologically important landforms, which lie parallel to flow directions, need to play a central role in restoration efforts. The NRC report reaffirms the white paper's conclusions, such as the recognition that the conditions that created the ridge and slough landscape may not be the same as those that maintain it. In addition, the NRC report suggests further research priorities, such as the need to measure flow and sediment transport for the full range of flow conditions. The report is available at www.nap.edu/catalog/10758.html.

Earth Scientists Tout NSF Projects in Hill Exhibit

On June 17th, the Coalition for National Science Funding held its annual Congressional Exhibition and Reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, showcasing research and education projects supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year, AGI joined forces with the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the American Astronomical Society to present a series of booths on Earth System and Space Science research. AGI and AGU co-hosted a display highlighting the recently formed Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrological Science (CUAHSI). More on CNSF at www.cnsfweb.org and more on CUAHSI at www.cuahsi.org.

Fond Farewell to Margaret Anne Baker

AGI's Government Affairs Staff Associate Margaret Anne Baker has moved on to pursue doctoral studies in geology at the University of Maryland. She has done an absolutely superb job here at AGI, writing many of the updates and alerts that you get from us and see on the web site. She has also overseen our internship program and handled all manner of program logistics. Margaret heads to South Africa in July to conduct field work studying metamorphic petrology. She will be sorely missed, but she has an exciting challenge ahead, and we wish her the best.

Intern Comings and Goings

At the beginning of June, we bid farewell to Charna Meth who served an extended semester internship, having joined us from the University of Texas at Austin, where she received both her bachelor's and master's degrees in geology. Charna finished up just as our summer interns began to arrive. They include Brett Beaulieu, who is a master's student in environmental geology at Vanderbilt University; Deric Learman, who just received his bachelor's degree in geology from Central Michigan University and is bound for graduate school in environmental geochemistry at Virginia Tech; and Emily Scott, who is a rising senior geology and government double major at Bowdoin College. The semester internship is supported by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the summer internships are supported by the American Institute of Professional Geologists Foundation.

May Federal Register

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at www.regulation.gov.

Minerals Management Service (MMS). Notice of availability of the final environmental impact statement on proposed eastern planning area oil and gas lease sales 189 and 197 in the Gulf of Mexico. Vol. 68, No. 107 (4 June 2003): p. 33528.

MMS. Announcement of plan to prepare an environmental assessment of lease sale 190 in the Central Planning Area of the Gulf of Mexico. Vol. 68, No. 107 (4 June 2003): p. 33531-33532.

Department of Defense (DoD). Meeting announcement of a closed Defense Science Board meeting on August 2-15, 2003, to discuss interim findings from two ongoing taskforce: DoD Roles and Missions in Homeland Security, and Future Strategic Strike Forces. Vo. 68, No. 115 (16 June 2003): p. 35635-35636.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Request for nominations for experts for the Panel of the EPA's Report on the Environment, with a deadline of July 8, 2003. Vol. 68, No. 116 (17 June 2003): p. 35883-35884.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Meeting announcement of the BLM Science Advisory Board on July 28th in Eugene, Oregon. Vol. 68, No. 124 (27 June 2003): p. 38384.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Meeting announcement of the NASA Earth Science Information Systems and Services Subcommittee on July 9th in Washington, DC. Vol. 68, No. 124 (27 June 2003): p. 38395.

Every month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) releases final rule on Modified Base (1-percent annual-chance) Flood Elevations for several communities that are used to calculate flood insurance premium rates related to the National Flood Insurance Program. This month, these announcements were made in Vol. 68, No. 105 (2 June 2003): p. 32659-32669 and 32699-32717; and Vol. 86, No. 124 (27 June 2003): p. 38198-38206 and 38270-38283.

New Material on Web Site

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:

  • Summary of Hearings on Water Resources (6-30-03)
  • Mining Policy (6-30-03)
  • Overview of Fiscal Year 2004 Geoscience Appropriations (6-27-03)
  • Summary of President's Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request (6-27-03)
  • National Earthquake Hazards Reductions Program (6-28-03)
  • Everglades Policy (6-27-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Water Resources (6-27-03)
  • Energy Policy Hearing Summaries (6-27-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Fossils (6-27-03)
  • Asbestos Policy (6-25-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Asbestos Legislation (6-24-03)
  • Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (6-24-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (6-24-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Clean Air Issues (6-20-03)
  • NRC Evaluation of EPA STAR Program (6-13-03)
  • Superfund and Brownfield Legislation (6-13-03)
  • Action Alert: Representatives Needed to Support Seismic Network (6-11-03)
  • Geotimes Political Scene: Congress Re-examines Earthquake Policy (6/03)

Monthly review prepared by Margaret A. Baker; AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Brett Beaulieu, Deric Learman, and Emily Scott; and David Applegate.

Sources: American Institute of Biological Sciences, Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, E&E Daily, Federal Register, Greenwire, House and Senate hearings, House Science Committee, The New York Times, National Research Council, National Science Foundation, Pew Oceans Commission, U.S. Energy Association, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey.

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

Posted June 30, 2003