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Monthly Review: June 2008


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.

  1. Participate in Geosciences Congressional Visits Day
  2. Emergency Supplemental Includes Science Funding
  3. NASA Authorization Rockets Through Congress
  4. National Sea Grant College Programs Reauthorized by Committees
  5. Senate Climate Debate Short-lived
  6. Congress Begins Work on FY 2009 Appropriations Bills
  7. House Science Committee Approves FOARAM Act of 2007
  8. Omnibus Public Lands Bill Introduced
  9. Another Climate Change Bill Introduced in the House
  10. NASA Scientist Discusses Climate Change Two Decades After First Testimony
  11. DOE Submits Yucca Mountain License
  12. International Oceanography Students Labeled “Security Threat”
  13. Barron Announced as Next Director of NCAR
  14. Larsen Named USGS Associate Director for Water
  15. National Academies Publishes Energy Booklet
  16. Climate Change Science Report Predicts Weather Extremes
  17. Climate Change Science Report Predicts Effects on Ecosystems
  18. Pluto Becomes the First “Plutoid”
  19. Teaching Evolution: State Updates
  20. Groups Call for Candidates’ Positions on Science Policy
  21. Hazards Caucus Alliance Hosts Levee Briefing
  22. AGI, AGU and GSA Host Geoscience Exhibits at House Reception
  23. AGI Welcomes Summer Policy Interns
  24. Web Updates
  25. Key Reports and Publications
  26. Key Federal Register Notices

1. Participate in Geosciences Congressional Visits Day

Join us for the first Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD) on September 9-10, 2008. This two-day event brings geoscientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for the geosciences. Participants will spend the first day learning about how Congress works, the current state of the budget process and how to conduct congressional visits. The second day will consist of visits with members of Congress. In addition to the workshops and visits, participants will get to meet other geoscientists, and federal science agency representatives. Help us make the first Geo-CVD a success and convey the value of the geosciences to policymakers.

Geo-CVD will be coordinated by Washington DC staff from the AGI, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the Geological Society of America, the Seismological Society of America and the Soils Science Society of America.

Please contact AGI’s Government Affairs staff for more information and to volunteer to participate by sending an email to govt@agiweb.org

2. Emergency Supplemental Includes Science Funding

With a vote of 96-2 by the Senate on June 26th the emergency supplemental bill (H.R. 2642) was passed by Congress and now heads to the White House for the President’s signature.  Although the majority of the $165 billion bill is geared toward funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, four science agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science within the Department of Energy, (DOE Science) would receive much needed boosts to their FY 2008 funding levels. 

NASA, NSF and DOE Science would receive an additional $62.5 million for FY 2008, while NIH would receive an additional $150 million in funding.  The supplemental funding for NSF was targeted to specific accounts while the other agencies received overall budget increases.  Within NSF, $22.5 million would be allocated to the Research and Related Activities account with $5 million of that funding available solely for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and $40 million would be allocated to the Education and Human Resources Directorate, with $20 million of those funds going to the Robert Noyce scholarship program.

3. NASA Authorization Rockets Through Congress

On June 24, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, following the House authorization of (H.R. 6063) on June 18 by a vote of 409-15.  H.R. 6063 was originally introduced by House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO).

The bill reauthorizes the science, aeronautics, and human space flight programs of NASA for fiscal year (FY) 2009. Most importantly, the House and Senate bills would both provide NASA with a total budget of $19.2 billion and $20.35 billion respectively for FY 2009. This would be about $2 to $3 billion more than the President’s request and would help to cover funding needs for Earth science research.  Commenting on the higher suggested level of funding, Chairman Gordon said, “we need to ensure that NASA has sufficient resources for all of the important tasks that the nation is asking it to carry out.” 

The measure notes the importance of providing more support for the Earth science division, so it can accomplish the research goals set forth in the National Academies Earth science decadal survey. If the measure were enacted then NASA would be required to provide a plan to Congress about how the agency would carryout the decadal survey research priorities.  NASA would also have to provide a plan for ensuring the continuity of Landsat data beyond the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. The bill calls specifically for the re-authorization of the Glory Mission about how aerosols and solar energy affect climate, re-affirms the importance of the Mars Exploration program and the Near Earth Object mission and calls for funding to develop the Deep Space Climate Observatory. 

The bill would also ensure that NASA gives high priority to tornado research and ensuring a skilled workforce for the future. NASA would be asked to make its climate-related research widely available and accessible. Congress wants the agency to follow recommendations from a Government Accountability Office report on climate change censorship and recommendations for data distribution and archiving in the National Academies Earth science decadal survey.

The bill requests a National Academies study “to determine the most appropriate governance structure for United States Earth Observations programs in order to meet evolving United States Earth information needs and facilitate United States participation in global Earth Observations initiatives.” Congress is clearly looking forward to whether the United States needs changes to the organization and leadership of its Earth observation initiatives within NASA and between NASA and other public and private entities.

Chairman Gordon noted that “it is important that we send a strong message to the next Administration—whether it turns out to be a Democratic or a Republican one—that Congress believes that NASA is important and worthy of the nation’s support.”

Supporters of the measure hope that the Senate will be able to approve the bill when it returns from the fourth of July recess and that the President would sign it into law. The increased funding, particularly for the Earth sciences is for fiscal year 2009 which starts on October 1, 2008, so it is important that the strong support and momentum expressed in the House vote, propels the Senate and Administration forward in July.

The full text of H.R. 6063 is available here.

4. National Sea Grant College Programs Reauthorized by Committees

On June 24, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously approved the National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (S. 3160). The Senate allocated $675 million for Sea Grant programs and projects at colleges and universities. The funding would be disbursed over the next 5 years starting in fiscal year (FY) 2009. The House Science and Technology Committee also approved similar legislation (H.R. 5618) on June 25.

Both bills aim to provide grants and contracts to support education, research, training, and management of the oceans, coastal areas, and major lakes. The new amendments stress integrated research, extension services, and regional coordination between the Sea Grant partners.  The partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), states, industry groups, and university-based programs.

The Sea Grant research programs cover a variety of themes from creating models of the oceans, to studying coastal hazards and ecosystems, to working on marine biotechnology. The Sea Grant program was last reauthorized in 2002. The House bill was reintroduced in the House on March 13, 2008 by Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU).

The bills now move to a possible vote by the full House and the full Senate, then a possible conference to compromise on any differences followed by final votes and with final approval from Congress a possible signature from the President. 

The full text of H.R. 5618 is available here.
The full text of S. 3160 is available here.

5. Senate Climate Debate Short-lived

On June 6, 2008, the Climate Security Act of 2008 (S.3036) was pulled from the Senate floor when a procedural vote to limit debate and move the measure forward failed.  Many senators were hoping for a more extensive debate and the opportunity to alter specific issues of concern within the legislation such as the potential impacts of the bill on the economy, the role of nuclear energy in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and international action on climate change. The timing of the debate was also hindered by recent skyrocketing oil prices and calls by some senators to open up areas of the U.S. outer continental shelf to drilling. Despite the lack of resolution on the bill its proponents, senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA), view the support of 54 senators to move the measure forward as “a very special day,” and are certain that their work in this Congress has set the stage for enactment of climate legislation next year.

6. Congress Begins Work on FY 2009 Appropriations Bills

After a contentious House debate in the final days before the fourth of July recess, it seems likely that final action on most spending for fiscal year (FY) 2009 will be delayed until next year. Most federal agencies will probably have to make do with a continuing resolution (CR) that essentially freezes funding at fiscal year 2008 levels, stops the initiation of new programs and leave budget plans in a costly limbo. Congress began serious deliberations on some of the 12 appropriations bills in June and the funding levels contained in the bills include much-needed increases for science research and science education. Unfortunately a CR until next year would mean that these funds would not be available at the start of FY 2009 on October 1, 2008.

Although many thought a CR was likely, a crucial blow that will probably force a CR sooner rather than later came on June 26th, when Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) tried to add the entire Interior appropriations bill to the Labor-Health-Human Services (L-HHS) appropriation bill during a mark-up meeting. He did this because the Republicans had been asking Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) to open the Interior appropriation bill to a House floor debate after the July 4th recess and Obey was not in favor of this. Both parties have reached a stand-off over offshore oil and gas drilling, offshore oil and gas leases and offshore oil and gas royalties and these issues would be covered in the ever-more contentious Interior appropriations bill. Both parties feel pressure to do something about high and rising oil prices, but there is little agreement on possible solutions or whether any suggested action would really help reduce prices.

The Democrats decided to adjourn the mark-up meeting on the L-HHS appropriations bill rather than embark on a contentious debate and Chairman Obey indicated this was probably the last mark-up meeting for the term. The Democrats are now likely to move forward with a CR rather than attempt any additional individual appropriations bill deliberations. Below is a summary of action completed on geoscience-relevant appropriations before the recess and the potential increases in geoscience funding that some agencies might receive when and if these bills are ever approved.
 
--Interior and Environment--
On June 11, 2008, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies passed a spending bill for FY 2009 that totaled $27.9 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion above FY 2008 enacted levels and $2.1 billion over the President’s request.  The legislation includes $10.5 billion for the Department of the Interior, $575 million more than the FY 2008 level and $712 million above the request.  Specifically, the U.S. Geological Survey would receive $1.1 billion, an increase of $48 million above FY 2008 and $85 million more than requested, while the National Park Service would get $2.6 billion, $254 million above FY 2008 levels and $240 million over the request. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would also see a boost of $371 million over FY 2008 and $689 million more than the request, with the agency total at $7.8 billion, while the Smithsonian Institute would see a 15.8 percent increase over current levels, for a total of $791 million.

The bill includes legislative language championed by Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO), which continues the moratorium on an oil shale leasing program in Western states. It also continues the moratorium on oil and gas leases within the Outer Continental Shelf and includes language to recoup about $9 million from oil companies that resulted from an administrative error in oil and gas leases in the 1990s.

-- Commerce, Justice and Science --
On June 25, 2008 the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would provide $56.8 billion in FY 2009 for the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice and science agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Commerce Department, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be funded at a total of $8.7 billion, $1.8 billion above funding in FY 2008 and $500 million more than the President’s request. Specifically, NOAA would receive $4.3 billion, $400 million more than FY 2008 and $180 million more than the request, while NIST would have a total budget of $817 million, $61 million more than FY 2008 and $118 million above the request.

The bill includes $17.8 billion in total funding for NASA, $500 million above the FY 2008 level and $200 million above the request. Although this is an increase it is below the level set in the NASA authorization bills passed by committees in the House and Senate, $19.2 billion and $20.35 billion respectively for FY 2009.  NSF would receive $6.85 billion, $789 million above FY 2008 and equal to the President’s request.

Additionally, the bill would allocate $1.9 billion for climate change programs, $181 million above FY 2008 levels and $85 million over the request. This includes $1.3 billion for NASA, with $150 million to fund Earth science missions recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal survey, $376 million for NOAA’s climate change research programs, and $230 million for NSF research.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed their version of this spending bill on June 20 with a total of $57.9 billion for discretionary programs.  The Senate bill differs from the House version in that it provides slightly less to NIST, $809 million rather than $817 million, which is still an increase of $54 million over FY 2008 and $171 million above the President’s request.  Additionally, while the Senate bill provides the same level of funding to NSF it would provide a larger increase to the Research and Related Activities account, while the House bill provides larger increases for the Education and Human Resources account. 

-- Energy and Water --
On June 25, 2008 the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2009 energy and water spending bill totaling $33.3 billion, $2.4 billion more than fiscal year (FY) 2008 enacted levels and $2.1 billion more than the President’s request. The bill provides $4.9 billion in funding for the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE), including $100 million for laboratory infrastructure and $160 million for climate change research and scientific computing, which is $23 million above FY 2008 levels and $5 million above the President’s request. 

The bill would also provide DOE with $1.6 billion for renewable energy and conservation research and development, which includes $250 million for biomass and biorefinery systems research and development, $52 million above FY 2008 and $25 million over the request and $40 million for hydropower, which is $30 million above FY 2008 and $7 million over the President’s request.  The bill also would provide $853.6 million for fossil energy research and development, such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Much of the fossil energy R&D would be related to coal and CCS. Only $3 million would be for conventional oil R&D, with $1 million for the stripper well consortium and $2 million for the Risk Based Data Management System, which is important for CCS.

Unconventional oil R&D would receive $50 million for ultradeep oil R&D as mandated in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Section 999). Natural gas R&D would be directed solely toward methane gas hydrate research at a level of $25 million. The legislation would also include funding for the Army Corps of Engineers totaling $5.3 billion, $300 million over FY 2008 levels and $600 million more than requested.

--Labor, Health and Education--
The House Appropriations Committee, subcommittee on Labor, Health and Education on June 19, 2008, approved an appropriations bill that would support increased funding for college student aid. The measure invests an additional $3.1 billion in college student aid compared to fiscal year 2008 to increase the maximum amount of a Pell Grant to $4,410. With additional mandatory funding under the College Cost Reduction Act, the Congress will have increased the maximum Pell Grant by $850 since 2006.  In addition a subcommittee press release stated, “The President’s budget eliminates other student aid programs, including Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. This bill rejects the President’s eliminations and continues these programs to help make college more affordable.”

Details of the appropriations bills will be available here soon.

7. House Science Committee Approves FOARAM Act of 2007

The House Committee on Science and Technology approved the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174) on June 25, 2008.  The bill was introduced by Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) in November 2007 as parallel legislation to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)’s bill (S. 1581) introduced in June 2007.  S. 1581 was added to the senate legislative calendar as of May 2008 and H.R. 4174 will now move to the House floor for consideration.

The FOARAM Act would establish an interagency committee chaired by a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Senior representatives from NOAA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) would be charged with establishing an ocean acidification research program. The program would have several research goals: to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification.

Click here for a hearing summary on the FOARAM Act.

The full textof H.R. 4174 is available here.
The full text of S. 1581 is available here.

8. Omnibus Public Lands Bill Introduced

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation (S. 3213) that bundles 96 public lands bills into one larger bill in order to facilitate the passage of these measures by the full Senate.  While all the bills included in the package are important their passage as stand alone measures is less certain, and Senator Bingaman hopes the inclusive strategy will follow the same successful path of a comprehensive natural resources bill enacted last month (S.2739).  S. 3213 includes two bills of interest to the geoscience community, the Paleontological Resource Preservation Act (S. 320) and reauthorization of the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992 (S. 240).

The full text of the bill will be available soon at: http://thomas.loc.gov/

9. Another Climate Change Bill Introduced in the House

On June 19, 2008, several Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced yet another plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions using a cap-and-trade scheme. The bill (H.R. 6316), introduced by Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), would reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill will now be considered by multiple committees that have jurisdiction over different parts of the measure and will likely be compared to other bills.

The full text of H.R. 6316 is available here.

10. NASA Scientist Discusses Climate Change Two Decades After First Testimony

June 23, 2008—On the 20th anniversary of his first appearance before Congress, Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, briefed the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on the danger of passing climate system tipping points. Tipping points are “points of no return at which the dynamics of the system take over” and reductions in carbon dioxide are futile, Hansen said. He remarked that it’s likely the climate has already reached a tipping point. Because there’s enough “warming in the pipeline” the Arctic will “lose all sea ice in the summer season,” Hansen specified.

Hansen gave a brief but comprehensive overview of the scientific concern surrounding global warming. The planet is experiencing a long term warming trend, he explained, due to the planetary temperature imbalance. Hansen declared he is “99.9% certain that the long-term safe level [of carbon dioxide] is 350 parts per million.” Currently, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 385 ppm. Hansen reassured the audience that brief greenhouse gas overshoots are alright, saying “1,000 ppm for a day won’t melt the ice sheets. But it can’t stay there for centuries.”

To achieve carbon dioxide emissions levels of 350 ppm or less, a moratorium must be placed on new coal-burning power plants, and existing coal plants must be phased out as “promptly as practical,” Hansen said. Furthermore, unconventional fossil fuels—tar sands and oil shale—must not be used, Hansen urged. Reforestation and improved agricultural practices such as no till agriculture can aid in the carbon dioxide sequestering process too. Lastly, Hansen called on Congress to consider a carbon tax with a 100% dividend returned equally to the American people on a per capita basis.

Dr. Hansen noted that, not long after he testified on June 23, 1988, he stopped communicating with the public to focus on his research. However, to “bridge the gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the public and policy makers,” Hansen decided to begin speaking out on climate change issues again.

Click here for more information on the briefing.

11. DOE Submits Yucca Mountain License

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is currently reviewing an application for the construction of the first national repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste at Yucca Mountain submitted June 3, 2008 by the Department of Energy (DOE). The NRC has a 90-day period to review the application and if accepted the entire approval process for the issuance of the construction and operation license is expected to take a minimum of three years. 

National interest in “clean” or low-carbon emitting forms of energy has prompted support for increasing the role of nuclear within the nation’s energy portfolio. In the President’s fiscal year 2009 budget request DOE stated they are “working with industry partners to promote the near term licensing and deployment of the first new nuclear plants in over thirty years, as well as to extend the life of current plants.”

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the 104 nuclear power plants operating today produce about 20% of the nation’s electricity.  While nuclear energy is an attractive solution when discussing global warming, the disposal of nuclear waste still poses a concern.  A 2002 NRC report estimates a total of 45,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is being stored at nuclear reactor sites around the country.  The mandated capacity of Yucca Mountain is 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 ensures that Yucca Mountain will be the only site considered as a national repository until 2010 when additional sites might also be deemed necessary.

For more information on Yucca licensing activities at the NRC click here.
For DOE’s license application click here.

12. International Oceanography Students Labeled “Security Threat”

Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) informed fifteen foreign graduate students enrolled in a joint oceanographic science and engineering program run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) that they were ineligible for Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) because they pose “security threats.”

In a letter to Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary, Congressman Brad Miller (D-NC), Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, stated that the students had been advised by the Coast Guard to apply for TWICs in order to facilitate accessing and loading research ships in waters designated as secure areas. Unfortunately the oceanography graduate students have a certain type of visa, including F-1 and J-1 visas and U.S. law prohibits those visa holders from obtaining TWICs.

Although the students were deemed “security risks” because they applied for TWICs without the correct visas, the formal definition of “security risk” applies only to certain felons, people denied admission to or who were removed from the U.S. in immigrant proceedings, people involved in “severe transportation security incidents,” and people who “otherwise pose a terrorism security risk to the United States.” While the TSA acknowledged that the students are not suspected of being terrorists, it has not retracted its determination. This means the students may end up on security risk lists and may have difficulty traveling or applying for something that might require government approval. Representative Miller has called on the TSA to remove the risk status from the students’ records, saying “the students are limited in their ability to carry out the research expected of their academic program, and [they] are stigmatized.”

To read Representative Miller’s letter to Secretary Chertoff, click here

13. Barron Announced as Next Director of NCAR

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) announced this month the appointment of Eric Barron as its next director.  In this role Barron will work with NSF, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and universities to focus the direction of NCAR research, which includes atmospheric chemistry, climate change, cloud physics and storms, weather hazards, and the interaction between Sun and Earth systems.

Barron received his B.S. in geology from Florida State University, and his masters and doctorate degrees in oceanography from University of Miami.  He was first involved with NCAR as a graduate student and later as a postdoc.  Up until now, he has served as chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees and of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.  Barron also chaired many NSF, NRC, and NASA committees as well as served as editor of various climate and geology journals.  Previously he was the dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and professor at Pennsylvania State University, and currently is dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas.

14. Larsen Named USGS Associate Director for Water

Dr. Matthew C. Larsen was named Associate Director for Water of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) this month.  As the Associate Director he will be responsible for the water-related research and activities programs. Larsen has been with the USGS National Research Programs as Chief Scientist for Hydrology since 2005, and has worked for the USGS since 1977.  He received his bachelor degree in geology from Antioch College and his doctorate in geography from University of Colorado-Boulder.  

15. National Academies Publishes Energy Booklet

The National Academies has published a free booklet for educators and the public entitled “What You Need to Know About Energy”. Geared to a general audience, the 32-page booklet draws on the institution’s reports and studies and provides basic and reliable information about energy, including an account of our main sources of energy and a survey of the nation's energy demand versus the world's available supply. It then looks ahead to the quest for greater energy efficiency and to a portfolio of emerging technologies.

You can view and download a PDF of the booklet here.

16. Climate Change Science Report Predicts Weather Extremes

The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a 162-page report that predicts more droughts, more excessive heat, more intense downpours and possibly more hurricanes throughout different regions of North America and U.S. territories. The report was released on June 19, 2008 and in a press release NOAA called it a “scientific assessment that provides the first comprehensive analysis of observed and projected changes in weather and climate extremes in North America and U.S. territories.”

The full CCSP 3.3 report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, and a summary of frequently asked questions brochure are available here.

17. Climate Change Science Report Predicts Affects on Ecosystems

The Environmental Protection Agency, one of more than a dozen agencies that are part of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), released a report that identifies strategies to protect the environment as changes related to global warming occur. The report notes that current stressors of ecosystems are likely to become more intense as the climate changes and that current best management and adaptation practices can help to alleviate the effects of these stressors. The EPA press release notes that the report provides the “best-available science to date on management adaptations for ecosystems and resources”

For more information on CCSP 4.4 report, Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources click here.

For more information about the Office of Research and Development’s Global Change Research Program at the EPA click here.

For more information about the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) click here.

18. Pluto Becomes the First “Plutoid”

On June 11, 2008, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that dwarf planets with near-spherical shapes whose orbits around the sun are beyond the orbit of Neptune will henceforth be known as “plutoids.” At present, Pluto is the only plutoid, but the IAU expects the designation to be bestowed upon more celestial bodies as astronomical discovery progresses. The dwarf planet Ceres shall not be regarded as a plutoid, because its orbit lies between those of Mars and Jupiter.

The IAU first considered the term “pluton” for Pluto-like planets. After receiving input from the geological community, the IAU considered the term “plutonian object.” The term plutoid was finally approved by the international astronomical organization almost two years after it introduced the category of dwarf planets.

Since the early 1900’s, the IAU has been responsible for categorizing and naming astronomical entities. Close to 10,000 astronomers from nations all over the world belong to the IAU; it is the largest professional organization for astronomers.

To read the press release publicizing the IAU’s announcement, click here.

19. Teaching Evolution: State Updates

Louisiana: Governor Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows the use of supplementary materials in the teaching of any scientific theory and expressly mentions evolution, origin of life, global warming and stem cell research as examples of such theories. The bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the state legislature, is viewed by many as a back-door attempt to allow the teaching of creationism/intelligent design in the science classroom. Although the bill gives the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authority to prohibit the use of supplementary materials approved by the local school districts, it does not outline a mechanism for the oversight of these materials.

Arizona: A legislative panel in the state Senate advanced a House measure aimed at protecting religious liberties in the school. The focus of the legislation is to preserve a student’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols, but a section of the legislation states if an assignment requires a student's viewpoint to be expressed a public educational institution shall not penalize or reward a student on the basis of religious content. There is concern that this language will open the door for the discussion of creationism in the science classroom.

20. Groups Call for Candidates’ Positions on Science Policy

Groups representing millions of scientists, engineers and citizens concerned about climate change, energy, water, innovation and competitiveness, and other science and technology issues facing the nation are asking candidates to state their positions by answering a series of questions. A group led by the grassroots organization know as Science Debate 2008, is focusing its efforts on the presidential candidates, asking them to provide written responses to 14 science-related questions, ranging from ocean health to national security. Another group led by Scientists and Engineers for America is asking 2008 congressional candidates to state their positions on science and innovation policies by answering seven questions ranging from science education to health.

For more information about these efforts and to read candidates responses visit: http://sharp.sefora.org/innovation2008/ and http://www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php?id=2 

21. Hazards Caucus Alliance Hosts Levee Briefing

The Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Hazards Caucus Alliance organized a public briefing on “Levee Protection: Working with the Geology and Environment to Build Resiliency” in cooperation with the Congressional Hazards Caucus. The briefing, held in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 19, 2008, featured presentations by three speakers. The first speaker, Peter Rabbon, Director of the National Flood Risk Management Program Initiative, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talked about the role of levees in the Army Corps of Engineers Flood Risk Management Program. The second speaker, David Simpson, Senior Engineering Geologist, URS Corporation talked about the California Central Valley levee geotechnical evaluations. The third speaker, Gerry Galloway, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland talked about dealing with levees in the absence of national policy.

The presentations of the speakers and more details about the Hazards Caucus Alliance and the Congressional Hazards Caucus are available here.

22. AGI, AGU and GSA Host Geoscience Exhibits at House Reception

The American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America hosted National Science Foundation-funded geoscience research exhibits at the fourteenth annual Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition and Reception in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 25, 2008. The presentations included: “Singing Icebergs and Climate Change” by Rick Aster a geophysicist and Jonathan MacCarthy, a graduate student, both from New Mexico Tech; “Water in the Grand Canyon” by Laura Crossey, a geochemist from the University of New Mexico and Mark Schmeeckle, a fluvial geomorphologist from Arizona State University; and “Uplift and Arsenic at Yellowstone” by Bob Smith, a geophysicist from the University of Utah and Bill Inskeep, a soil scientist from Montana State University. Several members of Congress, many congressional staff and the leadership and staff from NSF visited the exhibitors to learn more about the value and impact of geoscience basic research.

Click here for more information about the Coalition for National Science Funding and the Exhibition.

23. AGI Welcomes Summer Policy Interns

AGI is excited to announce the arrival of the final two 2008 AGI/AIPG summer policy interns this month. Corina Cerovski-Darriau just graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in geology and a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. She was recently sponsored by the Geological Society of America to attend UNESCO’s International Year of the Planet Earth as the US Student Representative. She was selected based on her essay about minimizing the risk/maximizing the awareness of natural hazards. Corina said, “ I am enjoying working as a liaison between the sciences and public policy and feel it is a nice combination of my two interests.” She also indicated she “looks forward to touring the nation’s capital, experiencing thunderstorms and fireflies, and hopefully seeing a little geology.”

Jillian Luchner comes to us from Boston, MA by way of California where she is completing a second undergraduate degree in Geology at Humboldt State University. After receiving an initial degree in economics from the University of Rochester, Jillian worked with an Americorps*VISTA program in California’s Central Valley. There she became interested in helping local governments better understand issues of science. She now enjoys focusing on issues of hydrology, hydrogeology and all things water. According to Jillian, she also “loves a good bike ride, a good book and a good burrito.”

24. New Updates to the Website

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

25. Key Reports and Publications

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Climate Change:  Expert Opinion on the Economics of Policy Options to Address Climate Change. Released on June 9, 2008. The GAO, working with the National Academy of Sciences, asked the opinions of economy experts on (1) actions Congress might consider to address climate change and the known benefits, costs, and uncertainties of these actions and (2) the key strengths and limitations of policies or actions to address climate change.

Department of Energy: Office of Science Has Kept Majority of Projects within Budget and on Schedule, but Funding and Other Challenges May Grow. Released June 19, 2008. The Department of Energy (DOE) has long suffered from contract and management oversight weaknesses. GAO was asked to examine the DOE Office of Science’s project management performance. The report concludes with GAO’s improvement recommendations for Office of Science.

***Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Legislation in the 110th Congress. Posted June 21, 2008. This report reviews the status of energy efficiency and renewable energy legislation. For each bill in this report, a brief description and a summary of action are given, including references to committee hearings and reports.

Wildfire Damages to Homes and Resources: Understanding Causes and Reducing Losses. Posted June 21, 2008. This report states the causes of increased wildfire damage and the proposed remedies to reduce property loss.

Science, Technology, and American Diplomacy: Background and Issues for Congress. Posted June 18, 2008. This report discusses international science and technology (S&T) diplomacy, instances when American leadership in S&T is used as a diplomatic tool to enhance another country's development and to improve understanding by other nations of U.S. values and ways of doing business.

Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the United States. Posted June 18, 2008. This report describes the proposed methods and challenges for tsunami detection and warning in the U.S.

Science and Technology Policymaking: A Primer. Posted June 18, 2008. Scientific and technical knowledge and guidance influences not just policy related to science and technology, but also many of today's public policies. This report discusses the role of science and technology in making policy as well as a general description of how policies are made.

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
Increasing Capacity for Stewardship of Oceans and Coasts: A Priority for the 21st Century (2008). Marine environments support the livelihoods, economies, and quality of life for communities around the world. But growth of coastal populations and increasing demands on marine resources are putting the future of ocean and coastal resources at risk. This report from the National Research Council recommends ways that governments and organizations can help strengthen marine protection and management capacity, including conducting periodic program assessments, making plans to sustain funding, and developing leadership and political will.

Origin and Evolution of Earth: Research Questions for a Changing Planet (2008). At the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, NSF, and USGS, the National Research Council assembled a committee to propose and explore grand questions in geological and planetary science. This book captures, in a series of questions, the essential scientific challenges that constitute the frontier of Earth science at the start of the 21st century.

Prospects for Managed Underground Storage of Recoverable Water (2008). Growing demands for water in many parts of the nation are fueling the search for new approaches to sustainable water management, including how best to store water. Society has historically relied on dams and reservoirs, but problems such as high evaporation rates and a lack of suitable land for dam construction are driving interest in the prospect of storing water underground. This report looks at the economic and policy considerations as well as the research needs to address underground storage.

26. Key Federal Register Notices

ED—Applications are now available for new awards for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 as part of the “Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow Programs”.  The purpose of this program is to develop and implement programs to provide integrated courses of study that lead to a baccalaureate degree in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or a critical foreign language with concurrent teacher certification. The deadline for transmittal of the applications is July 8, 2008 (as corrected in the Federal Register Vol. 73, No. 118). For further information contact: Brenda Shade, U.S. Department of Education, 1990 K Street, NW, room 7090, Washington, DC 20006-8526. Telephone: (202) 502-7773 or by e-mail: Brenda.Shade@ed.gov. [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 4 (Vol. 73, No. 108)]

ED—Applications are also available for new awards as part of the “Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow Programs” to develop and implement 2- or 3-year part-time master's degree programs in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or critical foreign language education for teachers.  The purpose is to enhance the teachers' content knowledge and pedagogical skills; and to develop programs for professionals that lead to a master's degree in teaching that results in teacher certification. The deadline for transmittal of the applications is July 8, 2008 (as corrected in the Federal Register Vol. 73, No. 118). For further information contact Brenda Shade at the U.S. Department of Education: (202) 502-7773 or Brenda.Shade@ed.gov. [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 4 (Vol. 73, No. 108)]

EPA—The Coastal Elevations and Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee (CESLAC) was deemed a necessary committee for the public interest, and will therefore have its charter renewed for an additional two-year period.  The purpose of the CESLAC is to provide advice on the conduct of a study titled Coastal Elevations and Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise to be conducted as part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).  [Federal Register: Monday, June 9 (Vol. 73, No. 111)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Children's Health Protection and Environmental Education Office hereby gives notice that the National Environmental Education Advisory Council will hold public meetings by conference call on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, beginning with July 9, 2008 from 3-4 p.m EST.  The purpose of these meetings is to provide the Council with the opportunity to advise the Environmental Education Division on its implementation of the National Environmental Protection Act of 1990. For more information, contact Ms. Ginger Potter, Designated Federal Officer (DFO), EPA National Environmental Education Advisory Council, at potter.ginger@epa.gov or (202) 564-0453.  [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 11 (Vol. 73, No. 113)]

NASA—The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announces a public meeting of its Advisory Council on Thursday, July 10, 2008.  The agenda for the meeting includes updates from each of the Council committees.  The Council committees address NASA interests in the following areas: Aeronautics, Audit and Finance, Space Exploration, Human Capital, Science, and Space Operations. For details on the meeting contact: Mr. Paul A. Iademarco, Designated Federal Official, NASA, (202) 358-1318.  [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 11 (Vol. 73, No. 113)]

EPA—The Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) of EPA is making available for public review and comment a number of technical documents that discuss monitoring issues being addressed in EPA's review of the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for lead. These technical documents will be used as part of a peer review and consultation with the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Ambient Air Monitoring & Methods (AAMM) Subcommittee.  Public comment can be submitted until July 17, 2008 by following the instructions online at http://www.regulations.gov:  [Federal Register: Tuesday, June 17 (Vol. 73, No. 117)]

DOA—The Forest Service published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to revise the regulations for locatable minerals operations conducted on National Forest System lands. The proposed rule considered impacts to small entities.  However, the proposed rule did not make available nor seek comment on the small entities flexibility assessment. This notice allows for review and seeks comment on the flexibility assessment until July 17, 2008.  Send written comments by mail (Forest Service, USDA, Attn: Director, Minerals and Geology Management (MGM) Staff, (2810), Mail Stop 1126, Washington, DC 20250-1125), by electronic mail (36cfr228a@fs.fed.us), or by fax (703) 605-1575. [Federal Register: Tuesday, June 17 (Vol. 73, No. 117)]

EPA— The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office announces a public meeting and a teleconference of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee's (CASAC) Sulfur Oxides (SOx) Review Panel to conduct a peer review of two EPA documents.  The meeting will be held on Wednesday July 30, 2008 from 8:30-5 p.m EST. and Thursday, July 31, 2008 from 8:30-2 p.m. EST.  The public teleconference will be held on August 12, 2008 from 11-1 p.m. EST. To submit a written or brief oral statement, or to get more information on the meeting contact Dr. Holly Stallworth at (202) 343-9867 or Stallworth.holly@epa.gov.  [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 18 (Vol. 73, No. 118)]

DOC—This is a notice for the Tuesday July 15, 2008 NOAA Sea Grant Review Panel meeting. Panel members will discuss the National Sea Grant College Program.  For information contact: Ms. Gina Barrera at the National Sea Grant College Program, (301) 734-1077. [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 18 (Vol. 73, No. 118)]

DOC—The NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB) will hold a meeting Wednesday July 16, 2008 and Thursday July 17, 2008 with a public comment period on July 17. Please refer to the Web page http://www.sab.noaa.gov for updated meeting times and contact information [Federal Register: Wednesday, June 18 (Vol. 73, No. 118)].

*********************************************************************
Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan and Marcy Gallo Staff of Government Affairs Program and by Laura Bochner, Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Jillian Luchner AGI/AIPG 2008 Summer Interns.

Sources: E& E Daily, Hearing testimony, The Times-Picayune, National Center for Science Education, CQ.com, Thomas(Library of Congress), Nuclear Regulatory Commission

**********************************************************************
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 1, 2008.

 

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