Monthly Review: June 2004
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 Bills Begin Their Legislative Journey
The FY05 Interior Appropriations bill restores the $18 million in program cuts from the US Geological Survey and partially restores cuts to key energy research programs. Total funding for the Department of Interior is $9.8 billion, $213 million below the request and $108 million above FY04. The Bureau of Land Management was funded $1.7 billion, $46 million below FY04 and $12 million below the request. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funded at $1.3 billion, $45 million below FY04 and $62 million below the request. The U.S. Forest Service received $4.2 billion, $8 million above the request and $294 million below 2004. The Smithsonian was allocated $620 million, $24 million above FY04 and $8 million below the request.
A detailed chart and explanation of the House action is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2005_interior.html#House.
Energy and Water Appropriations
Information about funding levels within the Energy and Water is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2005_energy.html#house.
Department of Agriculture Appropriations
More detailed information is available by accessing http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2005_ag.html#House.
Commerce-State-Justice and the Judiciary Appropriations
Information about programmatic funding levels can be found on-line
House Republicans introduced comprehensive energy legislation and other energy-related bills during "Energy Week" debates June 15th and 16th. Environment and Energy Daily predicted that high gasoline prices and Democratic opposition to many energy-related bills would serve as important contexts for the debates. The Republican sponsored Energy Week; however, was delayed due to the death of former President Reagan, postponing the debates one week. During this time, gas prices began to fall and the Bush Administration reported that prices were expected to fall throughout the summer. The bills were debated on the House floor under rules that prohibited amendments.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced H.R. 4503, the energy bill conference report that the House has already approved. It passed with a 244-178 vote. This bill was reintroduced with hopes of spurring the Senate to action. Provisions in the bill included energy conservation, research and development, and energy supply diversification.
Other bills approved by the House include H.R. 4517, which will speed up the permitting process for the construction of new petroleum refinery facilities in areas of high unemployment. This bill will allow the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish "refinery revitalization zones" in communities with an unemployment rate 20% above the national average and either a closed refinery or history of major industrial layoffs. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) introduced and passed H.R. 4513, which will streamline the process of environmental impact assessments required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for new renewable energy projects. It allows federal agencies to propose renewable energy projects without identifying more than one possible location for the project. H.R. 4515 also passed, providing energy companies with incentives to produce natural gas from methane hydrate resources, which have been found to contain significantly more gas than all other conventional natural gas resources combined. Although the technology to exploit hydrate resources is not yet available, the bill provides incentives for companies to develop that technology and begin extraction by the year 2018.
Two bills did not make it out of the House. A bill calling for a
portion of the revenues from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
oil and natural gas drilling to be used for the cleanup of abandoned
coal mines and health benefits for coal miners, H.R. 4529, was hotly
debated and eventually removed from floor consideration due to lack
of support. These two issues were linked in an effort to gain support
from those who oppose ANWR energy exploration. However, the United
Mine Workers of America, one of the groups expected to benefit from
the bill, issued a letter to Congress June 15th opposing the bill.
Another bill, H.R. 4545, would have lowered the price of gasoline
blends, commonly known as "boutique fuels." It would also
have allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to waive Clean
Air Act fuel requirements for up to five days is there is a significant
disruption in the fuel supply.
The funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository remains at $131 million after the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY05 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill on June 16th. The original budget request for the project was $880 million, with only $131 million coming from Congress and the other $749 million from a reclassification of the nuclear industry's annual contributions to the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund. The reclassification legislation, H.R. 3981, would guarantee funding for the licensing and construction of the project. Unless this legislation passes both Houses of Congress and is signed into law by the President, the currently appropriated funding would be insufficient to meet the scheduled 2010 opening date.
On June 25th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 3981 that would allow money from an annual nuclear waste fund to be used for the Yucca Mountain project through 2009. It is expected that the money from the trust fund will keep Yucca Mountain on schedule for its site license approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December and its expected 2010 opening. However, the Committee was only authorized to allocate $576 million for Yucca Mountain in FY05 due to the budget passed by the House earlier this spring. This means funding for Yucca Mountain is still $173 million short of the $880 million requested in the president's budget. Because Congress only passed a one-year budget this year, Energy Committee staff estimate $750 million will be authorized from the trust fund for FY06 and beyond.
H.R. 3981 is expected to be passed by the full House prior to the August recess despite the fierce opposition from the Nevada congressional delegation. Even if the House does approve this bill, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate where Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) is leading the opposition. He is the number two democrat in the Senate and up for reelection this fall.
More information about Yucca Mountain is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/yucca.html.
Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the House Science Committee Chairman, Curt Weldon (R-PA), and Bart Gordon (D-TN), Ranking Minority Member, issued a letter June 16th requesting the Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigate further the status of issuing visas to foreign science students and scholars. They expressed their concern that the delays were discouraging the best scientists from coming to the United States. Although national security is a high priority since September 11th, they argued it is no excuse for the inefficiency that has delayed the visa permitting process anywhere between a few to 300 days. Of particular concern was the Visas Mantis, or the security check designed to protect against the transfer of sensitive technologies. A report issued by the GAO in February (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04371.pdf) found that guidelines were unclear as to when a Visas Mantis check was applicable to a visa application, which is one of the main causes of the delays. In this report, the GAO also recommended that the State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, and Department of Homeland Security work together to develop specific goals and guidelines that would speed up the process. The letter requests an update investigation by the GAO on how well these organizations have implemented the recommendations. The GAO was also asked to pay particular attention to the status of Russian visas, which is an interest of Congressman Weldon.
The full text of the letter can be viewed at http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/084.html.
More details about the Committee's request are available at http://www.house.gov/science/press/108/108-259.htm.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on June
30th that, beginning September 1st, a new $100 fee will be incurred
on visa applications of international students, exchange visitors,
and scholars attending school or conducting research in the U.S. This
fee will be used to cover the costs of the electronic Student Exchange
and Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is designed to maintain
up-to-date data on applicants and process visa request more quickly.
The fee applies to F, J and M nonimmigrant classifications, but some
exchange visitor programs will have a reduced fee or will be fee-exempt.
There are currently 730,000 students and exchange visitors registered
on SEVIS. According to Jill Drury, Director of the Student Exchange
Visitor Program (SEVP): "The new fee payment procedure is a continuation
of our commitment to manage a system that enhances the integrity of
America's immigration system while facilitating the legal entry of
legitimate international students and scholars into the United States."
On June 24th, the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met to discuss H.R. 4010, a bill to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) through 2010. The bill was introduced by Subcommittee Chair Barbara Cubin (R-WY) and committee member and former geologist Jim Gibbons (R-NV). The subcommittee heard testimony from Patrick Leahy, Associate Director for Geology at the USGS, and John Steinmentz, President of the Association of American State Geologists. Both witnesses testified in support of the bill, and all members of the subcommittee who attended the hearing expressed their support as well. Leahy outlined some of the successes of the NCGNP including the ways in which USGS has worked in cooperation with agencies and states. He noted the high economic return of dollars invested in mapping programs as seen in the state of Kentucky, which is the only state that is completely mapped. Leahy also said that mapping aids security efforts by providing information on energy, mineral, and water availability as well as geologic hazards.
More information on the hearing and H.R. 4010 can be found on AGI's
website at http://stage.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/geologicmapping.html.
The Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space met on June 24th to discuss the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act (NEHRP; H.R. 2608). Senator Brownback (R-KS) presided over the hearing and was joined by Senator Wyden (D-OR) of Oregon. Witnesses from the USGS, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Science Foundation (NSF) each testified that their agencies were pleased with the House-passed bill. The major difference in this reauthorization process has been the shift of NEHRP from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has since been absorbed into the DHS, to NIST. NIST will continue to work with the USGS, DHS, and the NSF on the program. The only change suggested in the Senate hearing was proposed by Dr. David Applegate, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquakes and Geologic Hazards at the USGS. He advocated for a NEHRP Advisory Committee to be formed in order to give the program stronger direction and more focused leadership.
The full committee is expected to mark up the bill before the August
recess. A full wrap-up of the hearing can be found online at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/nehrp_hearings.html#june25.
The House Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources, and Regulatory
Affairs met June 23rd to discuss the federal and state roles in siting
liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals at both onshore and deepwater
ports. Chairman Doug Ose (R-CA) stressed the importance of LNG, explaining
that increasing energy demands require the U.S. to import more LNG
and consequently build more ports with the ability to accept these
imports. The responsibility of licensing and securing these ports,
however, has not been clear and the Committee called for federal standards
that would specifically outline the LNG terminal permitting and siting
process. As decided by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of
2002, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has jurisdiction over
the siting and construction of onshore terminals while the Department
of Transportation, including the Coast Guard, is in charge of offshore
terminal licensing and security. Currently, five new terminals have
been approved by federal regulators, but all with different criteria,
raising questions of how secure they are from terrorist attacks and
what danger they pose to nearby residents. To read more about the
hearing, log on to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/naturalgas.html.
The House Science Committee unanimously approved H.R. 3890, a bill
to reauthorize $20 million a year for the Metals Program at the Department
of Energy through 2009. The Metals Program provides funding and guidance
for the development of energy efficiency technologies in the metals
industry. It aims to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact
such as greenhouse gas emissions of metals companies, while improving
international competitiveness. The version of the bill that was introduced
in subcommittee authorized only $10 million a year to the program,
but its sponsor Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA) succeeded in passing an amendment
to double the funds before the full committee. The bill requires industry
partners in the program to match 30 percent of the funding they receive
and provide progress reports to Congress each year. The $20 million
authorization may provide clout for increased FY 2006 funding, although
an amendment has been added to the bill to flatline funding for FY
2005. The Bush administration requested $6.5 million for metals industry
efficiency programs in next year's budget. The House Science Committee
Republicans blocked an amendment to the bill funding energy efficiency
projects in other sectors. They pointed out that such amendments could
slow down the bill and that similar measures are included in other
legislation. To read a summary of the May 2004 hearing on the Metals
Program, go to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_hearings.html#may20.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met June 17th to
discuss the Department of Energy's (DOE) nuclear waste accelerated
cleanup program. One hundred fourteen sites are being cleaned up through
the program, which costs $7.4 billion or one third of the DOE budget.
There are some critics of the program, such as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR),
who said that accelerated cleanup is "just walking away faster."
The committee heard testimony from Jessie Roberson, the Assistant
Secretary of Environmental Management at DOE, who has been in charge
of the program since 2001. Two federal investigators also testified
regarding DOE compliance with worker safety at the Hanford site in
Washington. A hearing summary is available on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_hearings.html#jun17.
On June 15th, Senator McCain (R-AZ) presided over the full committee hearing on pipeline safety. Testimony was given by eight witnesses on the implementation of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (H.R. 3609). This act was originally proposed by Senator Lautenberg in 1994 in response to a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in New Jersey. The aging pipeline infrastructure in the U.S. has lead to concern over the safety and environmental hazards they present. Pipes are a critical component of our economy; roughly 63% of U.S. energy is transported through these pipelines which are a safer, more efficient mode of transportation compared to barge or truck transportation. Additionally, the threat of terrorist attacks has heightened the need for Federal assistance in maintaining the safety of the pipes.
In the past two years, the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) has attempted
to implement the rules and regulations defined by this act concerning
oil and natural gas pipelines. The general consensus of the witnesses
was that OPS has done a good job overseeing the repair and improvement
of the pipelines and the act overall is working well. They also point
out that it is still too early to truly know its effectiveness and
there is still much improvement needed, especially in regard to the
permitting process. A full recount of the hearing is available at
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met June 15th to
discuss the causes of recent high fuel prices. Guy Caruso of the Energy
Information Administration at the Department of Energy told the committee
that oil prices have dropped in the last three weeks, and should continue
to drop to $35 per barrel from the current $37.50 cost by the end
of the year absent any major disruptions. Republican committee members
urged passage of the Senate energy bill throughout the hearing, while
Democrats continued to argue in favor of other solutions to current
energy problems. One solution offered by Democrats is the opening
of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Democrats Charles Schumer (NY),
Ron Wyden (OR), and Byron Dorgon (ND) pressed the issue of the reserve
during the hearing, arguing that it can be used as a tool to pressure
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to lower crude oil prices.
Topics discussed at the hearing included corporate market manipulation,
risk factors in determining oil prices, tight refinery capacity, "boutique
fuels" and drilling in ANWR. A thorough hearing summary is available
A report issued in April by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended legislation be passed that would clearly outline the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) responsibilities and emphasize an ecosystem-based management approach. In response, the Bush administration submitted a proposal in June to restructure the agency. Since 1970, the agency has been operating without a congressional mandate. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Chairman of the House Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee, has also prepared an organic act for NOAA, which is expected to be introduced before the August recess.
More information about both of the proposals can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/ocean.html.
NASA announced June 24th that it will restructure the agency to streamline its operations and more effectively implement its Vision for Space Exploration. Effective August 1st, these changes will result in the consolidation of eight previously separate enterprises and a reduction in the number of support offices from 14 to six. The enterprises will be reorganized into four main categories labeled Aeronautics Research, Science, Explorations Systems, and Space Operations. The Earth Science and Space Science programs, which were formally separate under NASA's organizational structure, will now be combined under the Science category. The reasoning behind this was to achieve a more holistic understanding of the earth and solar system where information from studying the earth can be applied to research on the solar system and vice versa.
A press release as well as charts illustrating the organizational
changes can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2004/jun/HQ_04205_Transformation.html.
On June 22nd another successful Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) exhibition was held in the Rayburn House Office Building. Six members of Congress attended the evening event, including Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Howard Coble (R-NC), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), David Hobson (R-OH), and Ralph Regula (R-OH). John Marburger, Science Advisor to the President and Director of OSTP, was also present, along with several others from OSTP and the NSF, including Dr. Arden Bement the interim Director of NSF.
Geological Society of America (GSA), American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the American Geological Institute (AGI) jointly hosted a booth showcasing EarthScope, a program designed to explore the structure and evolution of the North American Continent. As one of over 25 organizations presenting research, the Earthscope exhibit featured pictures, instrumentation from an actual GPS station as well as video and informational brochures. More information on Earthscope can be found at their website http://www.earthscope.org/.
A letter encouraging maximum funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in FY05 was signed by 157 members of the House on June 9th. The letter outlined the value of NSF research programs to the country's economy and security and emphasized the accomplishments of the organization while working with only a small portion of the total federal research and development budget. The FY05 President's budget request for NSF was $5.7 billion, a 3% increase from last year but still short of the guidelines set in the NSF Authorization Act of 2002. The letter was written by Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) and was addressed to James Walsh (R-NY) and Alan Mollohon (D-WV), who are the Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for NSF appropriations. The letter and signatures can be found at http://www.ncseonline.org/Updates/page.cfm?fID=3733.
The National Science Board (NSB), responding to Congressional requests, released a list ranking proposed NSF Major Research Equipment projects in order of funding priority. The National Ecological Observatory Network is second on the list, after the Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel. The NSB white paper defining the priority-setting process for competing research facility projects is online at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2004/priorstnglrgefcltyproj.doc.
The National Academies Committee on Ensuring the Best Science and Technology Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments is interested in receiving comments from the science community on the issue of the appointment of scientists, engineers, and health professionals to presidentially appointed positions within the federal government and to federal advisory committees whose charge is science-based policy or to review research proposals. The Committee is charged with addressing the barriers to appointing the most qualified candidates for science and technology presidential appointments and will examine the appointment process and the principles that should be observed in selecting scientists, engineers, and health professionals to serve on federal advisory committees.
The topics upon which the Committee seeks comment are available online
along with instructions on how to comment and due dates.
Representatives from the industrialized nations that comprise the Group of 8 (G8) - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. -- met June 9th and 10th to discuss environmental issues and evaluate their progress since last year's meeting in Evian, France. Some of the subjects discussed included cleaner and more efficient energy use, agricultural sustainability and productivity, and improved communication of new ideas pertaining to these issues.
The focus of this meeting was the creation of an Earth Observation System (EOS) that was proposed last year at the Evian meeting. This project would link together thousands of satellites, ocean buoys, weather stations, and other instruments around the world, allowing data to be shared and communicated with all nations to track monsoons, droughts, and changes to the climate and atmosphere. This data could be used to find new ways to help improve agriculture, energy use, and other environmental issues.
Last April, 47 industrialized nations met in Tokyo to begin making
the framework for a 10-year implementation plan. The goal of next
year's G8 meeting will be to finalize this plan. The momentum for
this project continues to build. Since the Evian meeting, two additional
summits have continued the discussion of how to create an EOS, including
the 2003 Earth Observation Summit in Washington.
The issue of climate change has been demoted in global importance
by some of the world's top economists at international meeting called
the "Copenhagen Consensus." The meeting was moderated by
the controversial writer Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote the 1999 book "The
Skeptical Environmentalist" challenging conventional environmental
wisdom. Panelists at the meeting hailed HIV/AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition
to be more pressing issues than global climate change, and ranked
climate projects such as the Kyoto Protocol as cost ineffective. The
group did express support of funding for development of low carbon
technologies. The meeting was sponsored the by The Economist and the
Danish Environmental Assessment Institute.
For much of the past year, the Roseville Joint Union School District board of trustees has been occupied by a proposal to mandate that alternatives to evolution be included in science courses. On June 1, 2004, the school district near Sacramento voted down a resolution that would have established "The Quality Science Education Policy." Ultimately, the proposal was only supported by the school board president, Dean Forman, and board member Kelly Lafferty. Three board members opposed the resolution. According to the Roseville Press-Tribune, in public debate in opposition to the proposal, board member Jan Pinney stated: "We need [teachers] with us, not against us. They have spoken with one voice."
To learn more about evolution battles across the country, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html.
On June 9th, the Selection Committee seeking to fill the AGI Director of Government Affairs position revised its criteria. The new position description and directions on how to apply can be found on the Government Affairs website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/index.html#job.
Ashlee Dere, the newest AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern, arrived on June
9th. She is a senior at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo on the central coast
of California where she is majoring in earth science with a sustainable
environments minor. Originally from San Diego, CA, she has worked
as an intern with the City of San Diego Environmental Services Department
and has participated in soil judging and other student activities
sponsored by the Soil Science Society of America. Ashlee's internship
will extend through the first of September.
Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont04.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
EPA, Direct final rule regarding national primary drinking water regulations analytical method for uranium compliance determinations. This rule is effective on August 31, 2004, without further notice, unless EPA receives adverse comment by July 2, 2004. comments, identified by Docket ID No. OW-2003-0067, to Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to OW Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 4101T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460. Volume 69, Number 106 (2 June 2004): pp. 31008-31013.
DOT Office of Pipeline Safety, Notice of meeting of the Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee and the Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee. Conference call June 30, 2004, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., EST. Members of the public may attend the meeting at the U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC Room 6332-6336. To offer a short oral statement notify Jean Milam, (202) 493-0967, not later than June 25, 2004. Volume 69, Number 119 (22 June, 2004): pp. 34720-34721.
USGS, Federal Geographic Data Committee public review of framework data standards developed through the Geospatial One-Stop initiative. Comments to Ms. Julie Binder Maitra, FGDC Standards Coordinator c/o U.S. Geological Survey, 590 National Center, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Virginia 20192 or by phone 703-648-4627 or by facsimile 703-648-5755 or Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volume 69, Number 120 (23 June, 2004): pp. 35057-35058.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program and Ashlee Dere, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern.
Sources: American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physicists, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, House of Representatives hearing testimony, House of Representatives Science Committee press releases, NASULGC Washington Update, National Academy of Sciences, National Council for Science and the Environment, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, THOMAS legislative database, United States Senate hearing testimony, Washington Post.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted July 12, 2004