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Monthly Review: June 2006


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

Appropriations: House Almost Finished; Senate Just Beginning

The House has completed 10 of 11 appropriation bills. Among the primary agencies of interest to the geoscience community, the House bills would provide the following funding levels: The National Science Foundation would receive $6.02 billion, $439 million more than last year; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive $16.7 billion, $462 million more than last year; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $3.4 billion, $512 million less than last year; the United States Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $986 million, about $15 million more than last year; and the Department of Energy would receive $24.373 billion, about $810 million more than last year.

The Senate has just begun to consider their appropriation bills. The Committee on Appropriations has approved an Energy and Water bill and an Interior bill, which would provide $24.7 billion for the Department of Energy and $980 million for the USGS, respectively. The full Senate has not yet voted on these bills and additional adjustments may be made in July. Further consideration of these bills and others is tentatively scheduled for mid-July. Once the House and Senate have completed their separate bills, they will form conference committees to resolve any differences, so these funding levels may change.

Given the differences between funding levels being considered by the two chambers, the likelihood that the budget negotiation process will extend beyond the November mid-term elections and the importance of geoscience research and education to critical policy issues of national interest, there will be additional opportunities for geoscientists to communicate with policymakers about federal funding for fiscal year 2007 geoscience programs. Geoscientists and geo-engineers are encouraged to communicate with policymakers over the next several months. The Coalition of National Science Funding (CNSF) will organize congressional visits in September (see item 16 below). In addition, AGI can help facilitate visits or other communications for members of the geoscience community over the next several months.

More details about the House action on geoscience-related appropriations are available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/issues/alphalist.html#approps
For the complete text and summaries of each bill, please see Thomas: http://thomas.loc.gov/

House Passes Offshore Drilling Legislation

On June 29, 2006 the House passed the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act (DOER, H.R. 4761) by a vote of 232 - 187. This bill would lift the 25 year moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas off most of the U.S. coastline. States have the option to maintain the offshore drilling ban within 100 miles of their coastlines.

Part of the federal revenue generated from offshore drilling royalties would fund the Energy and Mineral Schools Reinvestment Fund Act (EMSRA). Funds will be distributed to petroleum, mining, applied geology and geophysics schools to support education and research and to encourage the growth of professionals in the energy workforce. Additional funds would be available for K-12 science education. H.R. 4761 also establishes the National Geo Fund to fund geologic mapping, geophysical and other seismic studies, earthquake monitoring programs, and preservation and use of geologic and geophysical data

House Science Committee Passes Competitiveness Legislation

On June 7, 2006 the House Science Committee passed three bills to increase the competitiveness of U.S. research and education. The Early Career Research Act (H.R. 5356), Research for Competitiveness Act (H.R. 5357), and Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act (H.R. 5358) were introduced to the House on May 11 to increase the competitiveness of math and science in the U.S. These bills were included as part of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) outlined in the State of the Union this year. The bills would provide grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation to stimulate innovative and high risk research in the U.S. Because they are related grant programs, H.R. 5357 was merged into H.R. 5356 and passed by a voice vote; H.R. 5358 focuses on K-12 teaching programs and undergraduate science and math education programs and was passed independently by voice vote. The bills are now ready for consideration by the full House.

More details about the bills are available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/innovation.html
The full text and congressional summaries are available at Thomas: http://thomas.loc.gov/

Progress on NOAA Organic Act

The House Science Committee passed a bill to codify the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into legislation. Commonly called the NOAA Organic Act, H.R. 5450 defines the agency's mission and management structure in U.S. law. "It would give this key science agency, which was created by Executive Order, a firm legal basis for its full range of activities and responsibilities," remarked Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Currently, NOAA management structure originates from the original Executive Order which established the administration.

Three amendments passed during markup of the bill requiring NOAA to report all foreign contracts, notify Congress of project delays and rising costs, and report severe weather information to other federal agencies. An amendment supported by the Democratic members to protect scientific research and data from censure failed on a party line vote.

Abandoned Hard Rock Mine Cleanup - 'Good Samaritan' Legislation

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight hearing on June 14, 2006 to consider whether potential liability deters 'volunteers' from cleaning up abandoned hard rock mine sites. There are over 500,000 abandoned hard rock mines in the U.S. - many of them abandoned long before modern environmental laws were enacted - and it is estimated that about 20 percent of these mines pose significant risk to watersheds into which they leach acids and heavy metals.

Support for the proposed 'Good Samaritan' legislation (S.1848, S.2780) is split. Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Wayne Allard (R-CO), co-sponsors of S.1848, argue that the bill would encourage mine cleanup at a level that could not be funded by the existing Superfund and Brownfield programs. Volunteers would be exempted from the Clean Water Act - and other laws that do not allow for partial cleanups - and would not be held accountable for pollution they did not help create. The EPA's Administrator, Stephen Johnson, supports passage of the Good Samaritan bills. He emphasized that because little remediation has been done in decades at thousands of mines, even incremental or partial cleanup will have a positive effect on the environment.

In contrast, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was not very enthusiastic about the Good Samaritan legislation. She believes that the bills would roll back environmental laws and standards, and may potentially put communities living near contaminated mines at higher risk. Boxer pointed out that mechanisms to deal with the cleanup of abandoned hard rock mines - such as the EPA's Superfund and Brownfield programs - are already in place. "Why create new legislation and bureaucracy, when the means to deal with these issues are already in place?" Boxer asked.

Others are voicing concern over the ability of volunteers to undertake complex cleanups. Terry Harwood, the former Executive Director of the Agriculture Department's Hazardous Materials Policy Council, cautioned that "the potential for good-intentioned, technically qualified Good Samaritans to make a discernible impact on this huge problem is highly questionable." Harwood suggested that the Superfund program be fully funded, so that the EPA has the ability to properly do its job. Committee ranking member Jim Jeffords (I-VT) agreed with Harwood, and suggested that the EPA should also "issue long-overdue rules to require mining companies to set aside money now for existing and future cleanups."

Additional information about the Good Samaritan legislation can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/mining_hearings.html

Reauthorization of the Brownfields Program

Members of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure met on June 8, 2006 to discuss the successes and future challenges of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Brownfields Program. Brownfields are former industrial and commercial sites (such as factories, gas stations or salvage yards) where property redevelopment may be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances or other pollutants. In the U.S. there are estimated to be 450,000 to one million brownfields sites, which tend to drive down property values and provide little or no tax revenue.

The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-118), which authorized the EPA to grant funds for assessment and cleanup of brownfields and to provide liability protection, will expire at the end of fiscal year 2006. Although several concerns were cited, panel members showed general support for the reauthorization of the brownfields program. Susan Parker Bodine, Assistant Administrator of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, emphasized the program's effectiveness over the past five years. To date, the program has resulted in the assessment of more than 8,000 properties and has revitalized neighborhoods, created public parks, and reduced urban sprawl.

However, there are some outstanding issues with the brownfields program. Terese Manning, the Senior Planner and Brownfields Coordinator for the South Florida Regional Planning Council, proposed that there be more flexibility in EPA's grants, including a rolling grant application process, simplified program requirements, and the availability of multi-purpose grants that could be used for assessment, cleanup, demolition and property reuse planning. Manning also emphasized the importance of increased funding for the program. "EPA only funds approximately one-third of all applications," she said. "Increased funding, or even funding at the levels in the current Act will return more properties to productive use." The brownfields site assessment and cleanup program is currently authorized at a funding level of $200 million annually, but appropriations have peaked at only $98 million.

For more information on the EPA Brownfields Program is available at http://www.epa.gov/swerosps/bf/about.htm

House Soils Caucus Formed

The House Soils Caucus was approved by the House Administration Committee and is now an official congressional entity. The caucus is chaired by Congressmen Tom Latham (R-4th IA) and Jim Costa (D-20th CA) and currently has 17 members. The mission of the House Soils Caucus is to heighten the awareness of and appreciation for the importance and role of soils and soil science among policymakers and the public to promote proper soil management and conservation to ensure the continued production of high-quality and abundant food, feed and fiber, while protecting and enhancing the environment and natural resource base across the nation. The geoscience community is encouraged to invite other members of Congress to join the Caucus and support soil science research, education and public outreach. More information about the House Soils Caucus is available from the Soil Science Society of America.

Supreme Court Rules on Clean Water; Will Rule on Clean Air Next

On June 19, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of two landowners regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interpretation of the Clean Water Act. In the joint cases of Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the court reached a 5 to 4 decision requiring the lower courts to reconsider the definition of "navigable waters" and whether the federal government has authority over wetlands that are adjacent to or separated by man-made berms from their tributaries. The lower courts must now reconsider whether the two landowners can continue development on their property with or without a permit from the EPA. The decision, which was very close, did not definitively resolve the Clean Water Act statute, leaving the government, the public and the lower courts to continue to grapple with the definition of "navigable water" and how best to protect wetlands. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "It is unfortunate that no opinion commands a majority of the Court on precisely how to read Congress' limits on the reach of the Clean Water Act. Lower courts and regulated entities will now have to feel their way on a case-by-case basis."

On June 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency. The case involves 12 states, 13 environmental groups, New York City, Baltimore and American Samoa, who argue that the EPA has the legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has maintained that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and therefore cannot be regulated under the act. Lower courts have upheld this position and now the Supreme Court will consider these rulings. A decision is expected next year and could affect related cases within the court system, most notably an automakers challenge to California's decision to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. In addition, the Supreme Court's recent activity in environmental issues may motivate further action in Congress and the administration. According to a quote in E&E Daily, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) offered the following comment about the Supreme Court's action, "The fact of the matter is that the court is filling a void caused by the inaction within the Congress and the administration. It appears the only way to spur greater U.S. action is through the courts."

Policies for the National Wildlife Refuge System

On June 20, 2006, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne issued a three-part policy statement for managing the nation's wildlife refuges. The "Mission Policy" essentially reiterates language from the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 and implements the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. It also outlines five goals of the Refuge system, ranging from conservation to recreational use and education. The "Recreation Policy" states that, "The over-arching goal of our wildlife-dependent recreation policy is to enhance wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities and access to quality visitor experiences on refuges while managing refuges to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats." The "Appropriate Use Policy" states that refuge managers may use their own discretion in determining whether or not a new or existing use is appropriate, with the caveat that, "Refuges are first and foremost national treasures for the conservation of wildlife." These policies can be read at www.fws.gov.

National Science Foundation Requests Input on Strategic Plan

The National Science Foundation has completed a draft of their strategic plan for fiscal year 2006-2011 and they are requesting more community input on the draft. Your comments are requested by July 17, 2006 through the website at www.nsf.gov/about/performance/input.cfm or by e-mail to strategicplaninput@nsf.gov . In particular, NSF requests comments on the following questions to assist them in finalizing the new plan: (1) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the draft plan? (2) Does NSF's draft Strategic Plan effectively communicate NSF's investments and priorities in supporting the science and engineering community? If not, what is lacking and specifically how can it be improved?

National Academies Report on Climate Change Papers

The National Academy of Sciences issued a report on June 22, 2006 stating that conclusive scientific evidence shows that the climate of the past several decades is the warmest that the Earth has experienced in 400 years. Climate data for years before 1600 become increasingly poor, thus making it impossible to conclude decisively that the Earth is warmer now than it has been in a millennium.

This report was issued in response to a long-standing conflict that began with the publication of a 1998 Nature article (392: 779 - 787) by M.E. Mann et al. The article used a variety of climate proxies to show an increase in global temperatures over the past 100 to 150 years, a period of time corresponding to global industrialization and increased emission of anthropogenic CO2. A key graph from the paper, showing the rise in temperature over time, now referred to as the "hockey stick" graph because the curve has the shape of a hockey stick, was used several years later in the 2001 United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report. The paper and the assessment gained the attention of prominent U.S. law-makers, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joseph Barton (R - TX). Congressman Barton drafted letters to the IPCC, NSF and the authors of the study requesting additional information about the funding for the research, the methods and conclusions of the Nature article and about the process by which Dr. Mann's graph was included in the IPCC report.

In response to Mr. Barton's investigation, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R - NY) requested the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to examine the evidence presented in the Nature paper and other papers and provide "expert guidance on the current scientific consensus of the paleoclimate record". The report found that several lines of evidence show with high confidence that the past few decades have been warmer than any comparable period in the past 400 years. Between 900 and 1600 the data is less conclusive, and beyond that, the report stated, the data is not reliable due to the scarcity of proxy data. The Academy noted that the collection of additional climate proxies, especially from the southern hemisphere, would increase the certainty of climate models.

The NAS report and press release can be found at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/

The Nature article can be accessed at Dr. Mann's website: http://holocene.meteo.psu.edu/Mann/.

Rep. Barton's letters to the IPCC, NSF, Dr. Mann, Dr. Hughes and Dr. Bradley can be read at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/

House Science Committee coverage of the letters and the NAS report are available at: http://www.house.gov/science/hot/climate%20dispute/index.htm

International Panel of Scientists Issues a Statement on Teaching Evolution

On June 21, 2006, the Inter-academy Panel on International Issues (IAP) released a statement calling on parents, teachers and politicians to educate children about scientific methods and information. The statement, which was signed by 67 major national science academies (including the US National Academy of Sciences), describes scientific knowledge as being based on observation and developed through "testable and refutable" hypotheses. The statement also charges that "within science courses taught in certain systems of public education, scientific evidence, data and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science." Questions of meaning or purpose, IAP argues, are beyond the purview of science, and should therefore be discussed in a social, political or religious context, not in a scientific one. The press release and full text of the statement, including all signatories, can be viewed at: http://www.interacademies.net/

Congressional Briefing on Hurricane Katrina and Insurance Costs

The Congressional Hazards Caucus in association with the Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado and the American Sociological Association held a briefing on lessons learned through social science studies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a summary of a new report from the National Academies on "Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions" and a new study being initiated by economists, social scientists and others to understand the motivations for purchasing or not purchasing natural hazards insurance for residential structures.

More information is available on all three presentations at the following web sites:
Natural Hazards Center: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/
National Academies Study: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11671.html
Insuring and Mitigating Risks of Large-Scale Natural Disasters Study: http://grace.wharton.upenn.edu/risk/projects/insmitig.html

American Geophysical Union Issues White Paper on Hurricanes

On June 19, the American Geophysical Union issued a white paper entitled "Hurricanes and the U.S. Gulf Coast: Science and Sustainable Rebuilding". The 30-page paper was based on a "Conference of Experts" convened by AGU on January 11 and 12, 2006. Twenty scientists with expertise in Gulf Coast issues considered the current state of research, the application of research to solve problems and scientific advances needed in the near future to reduce risks and enhance response, relief and rebuilding. The paper was divided into 7 key areas of concern: hurricanes, storm surge and flooding, subsidence, climate change, hydrology, infrastructure, and disaster preparedness and response.

An Executive Summary and the full report are available at: http://www.agu.org/report/hurricanes/

Geological Society of America Will Hold a Drought Forum

The Geological Society of America will hold a conference on drought entitled "Managing Drought and Water Scarcity in Vulnerable Environments, Creating a Roadmap for Change in the United States" on September 18-20, 2006 in Longmont, Colorado. The stated goals of the conference are "to create an integrated, interactive, future-oriented forum for understanding and improving our management of drought and water scarcity in the United States and to stimulate national debate through the publication and wide distribution of a science- and policy-based discussion document." The abstract deadline was June 26.

More information is available at: http://www.geosociety.org/meetings/06drought/

Congressional Visits in September, Please Volunteer

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) will organize congressional visits for groups of scientists and engineers to voice a shared message of greater support for research and education. There will be an orientation and reception on Tuesday, September 12 and the visits will be scheduled on Wednesday, September 13. This is an excellent opportunity to speak with Members of Congress about the value and importance of science and engineering as well as a chance to meet other scientists, engineers, policy makers and federal agency officials. Please contact Government Affairs at govt@agiweb.org or Linda Rowan at rowan@agiweb.org if you would be interested in participating. The deadline for signing up for visits is August 18. We need more citizen scientists and citizen engineers!

Welcome Our Third Summer Intern

AGI's Government Affairs Program would like to welcome our third summer intern, Carrie Donnelly. Carrie is a Master's student at the University of Washington where she conducts research on the uranium-series chemistry of lava from the ongoing eruption of Mt. St. Helens. During her stay in Washington, D.C., Carrie will focus on science education policy, emergency management and other issues.

Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont06.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

DoEd: The Department of Education announces it is accepting applications for Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Programs. There are four types of MSEIP projects: institutional, design, special projects, and cooperative. The deadline for applications is July 24, 2006. Additional information is available at: http://www.ed.gov/programs/iduesmsi/index.html. [Federal Register: June 7, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 109)].

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced several grants available through the agency to fund a range of research. Additional information on the grants and deadlines is available at http://www.grants.gov. [Federal Register: June 12, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 112)].

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the availability of draft Prospectuses for three of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) Synthesis and Assessment Products for public comment. Comments must be submitted by July 12, 2006. Additional information is available at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/default.htm. [Federal Register: June 12, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 112)].

DOI: The U.S. Geological Survey announced the meeting of the Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee, which provides guidance for the USGS's participation in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The meeting will take place on July 6-7, 2006, at the Colorado School of Mines campus at the Green Center in Golden Colorado. Additional information is available at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/aboutus/advisory.php. [Federal Register: June 13, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 113)].

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the availability of the draft Prospectus for "Scenarios of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Atmospheric Concentrations and Review of Integrated Scenario Development and Application", one of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Products or public comment. Additional information is available at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap2-1/default.htm. Public Comments must be submitted by August 7, 2006. [Federal Register: June 21, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 119)].

New Updates to the Website

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:

Climate Change Policy (6-30-06)
Hearings on Federal Emergency Response and Science (6-30-06)
Hearings on Global Earth Observations (6-30-06)
Hearings on Nuclear Power Plant Regulations (6-30-06)
Hearings on Energy (6-28-06)
Hearings on Outer Continental Shelf Policy (6-28-06)
FY2007 National Science Foundation Appropriations (6-23-06)
FY2007 Environmental Protection Agency Appropriations (6-22-06)
Hearings on Outer Continental Shelf Policy (6-21-06)
Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (6-21-06)
Ocean Policy (6-21-06)
Hearings on Brownfields (6-21-06)
FY2007 Department of Energy Appropriations (6-21-06)
Hearings on Mining Policy (6-20-06)
Hearings on Global Earth Observations (6-16-06)
Hearings on Brownfields (6-15-06)
Hearings on NASA Programs (6-15-06)
Hearings on Federal Emergency Response and Science (6-13-06)
FY2007 Department of the Interior Appropriations (6-13-06)
Hearings on Wind Hazards (6-12-06)
Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (6-6-06)
Climate Change Policy (6-6-06)
Hearings on Wind Hazards (6-2-06)
Climate Change Policy (6-2-06)
Federal Science Education Policy (6-2-06)

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

Sources: Natural Hazards Center web site, Thomas, United States Senate web sites, United States House of Representatives web sites, Washington Post, E&E News, Congressional Quarterly, AGU web site, GSA web site and the Federal Register.

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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 geoscience community that it serves. Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <http://www.agiweb.org>. 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.

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

Posted July 3, 2006.

 

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