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Monthly Review: June 2010

This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community. The current monthly review and archived monthly reviews are all available online. Subscribe to receive the Government Affairs Monthly Review by email.


  1. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day in September

***Administration News and Updates***

  1. OMB Issues Memorandum Asking Agencies to Identify Spending Cuts
  2. Obama Announces Nomination for NSF Director
  3. Obama Announces Replacement Director for MMS, Salazar Swears Him In
  4. Administration’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

***Congressional News and Updates***

  1. Appropriations Update
  2. House Approves $304 Million for Oil Spill Response and Caps Discretionary Spending
  3. Murkowski’s EPA Resolution Fails
  4. Senate Introduces Outer Continental Shelf Management Reform Act
  5. House Committee Approves Oil Spill Accountability Bill
  6. Committee Passes Arctic Mapping Bill
  7. Abandoned Mine Clean-Up Amendment Passes Committee
  8. Avalanche Mitigation Legislation Passes Committee
  9. Bill Introduced to Strengthen Nonprofit Collaboration with Federal Agencies
  10. Senator Robert C. Byrd Dies at 92

***Federal Agency News and Updates***

  1. MMS Gets a Name Change, Just Call it “BOE”
  2. EPA Sets Stricter Sulfur Dioxide Limits
  3. EPA Supports Reinstating “Polluter Pays” Tax
  4. EPA Seeks Public Comment on Strategic Plan
  5. NSF Survey Shows U.S. Business Spent $330 Billion on Research

***Other News and Updates***

  1. Italian Scientists May Face Manslaughter Charges for 2009 L’Aquila Quake
  2. Successful Private Rocket Launch and New Plans for Mars
  3. IEA Releases New Study on Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies
  4. Marcellus Well Explodes, Renews Push for “Fracking” Regulations
  5. Penn State Clears Climate Scientist, Michael Mann, of Misconduct
  6. Public Understanding of Science Examined
  7. Hazards Caucus Alliance Holds Briefings on Drought, Hurricanes
  8. Geoscience Booths at Inaugural USA Science and Technology Festival
  9. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Third Summer Intern
  10. Key Reports and Publications
  11. Key Federal Register Notices
  12. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day in September

The American Geological Institute (AGI), in collaboration with many other geoscience societies, invites geoscientists to come to Washington DC for the annual Geosciences Congressional Visits (GEO-CVD) on September 21-22, 2010. Decision makers need to hear from geoscientists. Become a citizen geoscientist and join many of your colleagues for this two-day event uniting geoscience researchers, professionals, students, educators, engineers, and executives in Washington DC to raise visibility and support for the geosciences. A constructive visit from citizen geoscientists about the importance and value of geoscience (and geoscience-related engineering) research and education is the most effective way to inform and impact federal science policy. Visit the GEO-CVD homepage for more information about the event.

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 2. OMB Issues Memorandum Asking Agencies to Identify Spending Cuts

On June 8, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to federal agencies asking leadership to identify fiscal year 2012 spending cuts of 5 percent. The agencies are directed to target low-priority programs and not just suggest a 5 percent cut across all programs. A similar memorandum was issued last year.

In related news, Peter Orszag, Director of OMB, is likely to step down some time in the next few months, probably in July. It was expected that Orszag would serve a short term as many OMB directors in the past have stayed for about 2 years. People mentioned as possible replacements for Orszag include Gene Sperling, a former economic adviser for President Clinton, Laura Tyson, former chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and Robert Greenstein, director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. A new OMB director will need to hit the ground running as OMB finishes work on the fiscal year 2013 budget plan in the fall.

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 3. Obama Announces Nomination for NSF Director

On June 3 President Obama nominated Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dean Subra Suresh for the position of director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Suresh will replace Dr. Arden Bement Jr., who announced in February 2010 that he would step down on June 1 to return to Purdue University to head the new Global Policy Research Institute. Dr. Suresh was trained as a mechanical engineer, though his research has encompassed materials, nanotechnology and the life sciences. He has been the dean of MIT since 2007, but remains an active researcher in his field. The Senate needs to confirm the nomination before Suresh can become director of the NSF. Cora Marrett will serve as acting director in the interim.

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 4. Obama Nominates New Director of MMS, Salazar Swears Him In

Michael Bromwich was sworn in as the new leader of the reformed Minerals Management Service (MMS), now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOE) on June 21, 2010. Although he was not given an official title, Obama has made Bromwich’s task clear: create an organization that monitors the offshore drilling industry. The appointment did not require Senate confirmation, and will not unless Congress adjusts the three agencies Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has created.

Bromwich graduated from Harvard in 1976, and received his JD from Harvard Law School, as well as a Masters degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the southern district of New York from 1983 to 1987, followed by an associate counsel in the Office Independent Counsel until 1989. Bromwich served as Inspector General for the Department of Justice from 1994 to 1999, where he oversaw a few major investigations, including the agency’s involvement in the Aldrich Ames case. He has been a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson since 1999.

Bromwich has had no involvement in energy issues or the offshore industry. He has had no connections with environmental organizations either. This lack of experience has caused some raised eyebrows, but it has been argued that an outsider is exactly what is needed for this period of transition.

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 5. Administration’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Although the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was destroyed on April 20, the Macondo  Prospect oil well continues to leak oil and gas at a rate that is variable and difficult to accurately estimate. Changing conditions have affected the flow rate and made estimates more uncertain. Responders continue to use boom, controlled burns, chemical dispersants, skimming, and onshore clean-up to attempt to contain and mitigate the oil spill. The federal government continues to monitor air, water, wildlife and onshore conditions and has restricted commercial, recreational and other uses of Gulf waters and coastal areas based on different hazards presented by the oil spill.

The most significant development within the administration in June was a meeting between President Obama and Vice President Biden with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and BP executives on June 15. The meeting led to a financial agreement between BP and the federal government.

BP has agreed to the following:

  • BP will contribute $20 billion over four years ($5 billion per year starting in 2010) to pay for economic claims to those affected by the oil spill.
  • An independent claims facility, led by Kenneth Feinberg, who previously administered the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, will be set-up.
  • The $20 billion represents neither a floor nor a ceiling on potential costs to BP and BP will not assert any liability cap defined under the Oil Pollution Act.
  • In addition to the $20 billion, BP will contribute $100 million to support unemployed oil rig workers and has previously committed $500 million for a 10 year Gulf of Mexico research initiative to enhance long-term monitoring, improve understanding of the environmental impacts and to develop better methods to mitigate oil and gas pollution.

Major re-organization and changes in oversight and regulation of offshore oil and gas drilling at the Department of the Interior (DOI) include:

Other key agency responses of particular interest to the geosciences community include:

  • NOAA models long-term oil threat to Gulf and East Coast on July 2.
  • EPA releases first toxicity testing results for some oil dispersants on July 1.
  • Coast Guard and EPA release directive to BP on managing recovered oil, contaminated materials and other wastes from clean-up on July 1.
  • NOAA will study loop current and Florida waters impacts from oil spill and the Integrated Ocean Observing System will track oil in the water column.
  • The Joint Analysis Group (JAG) releases report on subsea monitoring in the vicinity of the oil spill on June 23.
  • The Flow Rate Technical Group issues revised estimates of the oil spill flow rate of between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day for part of June on June 15.
  • NOAA launches a website to provide the latest data and maps on the extent of the oil spill on June 14.
  • NOAA releases an update on oil spill research missions with links to more information.
  • The Flow Rate Technical Group releases an update on scientific analyses of flow rates from well with links to more information on June 10.
  • Department of Energy releases data about the malfunctioning blowout preventer on June 8.
  • NOAA completes initial analysis of offshore subsurface water samples on June 8.
  • The Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program workgroup calls for submissions of white papers on oil spill response and recovery on June 4.
  • NOAA highlights critical role of science in oil spill response on June 2.
Additional information about the administration’s response to the oil spill is available from a new Deepwater BP Oil Spill blog that replaces a more succinct oil spill response timeline which covers the period from April 20 to May 25. The Primary BP Oil Spill Response web site remains the main portal for all federal government information.

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 6. Update on Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011

Congress has made little progress on twelve appropriation bills for the fiscal year 2011 budget and is  not likely to complete the appropriations process before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010. It appears more and more likely that there will be a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running on last year’s budget beyond the November elections. Congress may try to complete the 2011 budget in late November to early December.

In a flurry of activity on the last four days before the July 4th congressional recess, five House appropriation subcommittees convened to mark-up their appropriation bills. Bills were approved out of the subcommittees for the Legislative Branch, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State and Foreign Operations, Agriculture and Commerce, Justice and Science.

For science agencies, the House subcommittee approved a budget of $7.424 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year 2011. This is the same as the president’s request, however, the subcommittee moved some funding from the research account to the education account. For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the subcommittee approved a budget of $19 billion. This is the same as the president’s request, however, the subcommittee reduced the budget for the Science programs by $300 million, so Science programs would receive $4.7 billion. For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the subcommittee approved a budget of $5.543 billion, which is essentially the same as the president’s request.

The subcommittee-approved budgets for these science agencies would mean healthy increases compared to fiscal year 2010, however, these budgets still need to be approved by the full committee, the House and the Senate.

More information about the House Committee on Appropriations work on the fiscal year 2011 budget is available at the committee website.

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 7. House Approves $304 Million for Oil Spill Response and Caps Discretionary Spending

The House sent a supplemental spending bill that includes funds for oil spill response to the Senate right before the Independence Day recess. The House bill, H.R. 4899, contains a total of $304 million for oil spill response, which is almost double the amount the Senate would allow. The legislation delineates how the money should be spent. $130 million is allocated for unemployed fishermen, while $83 million is given to general unemployment assistance and $14 million to help offset the economic effects fishermen are experiencing due to the oil spill. $31 million is distributed to the Department of the Interior to strengthen regulations and monitoring of offshore programs, and $12 million to the White House commission that will investigate the spill itself. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $7 million for oil spill response.

Much of the funding comes from rescissions from programs the committee does not believe need funding. Programs in the Energy, Interior, Education and Agriculture Departments, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency would be rescinded. The president supports most of the supplemental bill, but threatens to veto the bill if certain educational rescissions remain part of it. The measure needs to be reconsidered by the Senate and, given the differences in spending levels, there are likely to be more delays and debates.

The House bill includes a resolution that sets discretionary spending for fiscal year 2011 at $1.121 trillion or about $7 billion below the president’s budget request. Time will tell if Congress is able to reduce spending, resolve significant spending priorities differences and resolve differences with the president’s budget request before the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010. Several key appropriators have suggested that the fiscal year 2011 budget will be delayed until after November elections.

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 8. Murkowski’s EPA Resolution Fails

The Senate failed to pass the resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The 47-53 vote gives Democrats hope that comprehensive climate and energy legislation can pass this year.

The EPA independently ruled in December 2009 that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. This followed a 2007 Supreme Court mandate that EPA regulate GHG emissions if they found them harmful to human health. Most Democrats see the EPA ruling and subsequent failure of the Murkowski resolution as a forward push for clean energy in Congress, while Republicans are still worried allowing EPA to regulate GHGs will bog down industry with regulations and hurt the economy. Murkowski did not believe the resolution could become law, but used the vote to make it clear that she felt the EPA was inappropriately forcing the Senate to rush into a comprehensive climate bill.

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 9. Senate Introduces Outer Continental Shelf Management Reform Act

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is sponsoring legislation (S. 3516) that will reform management and oversight of offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The bill is cosponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill is meant to correct the issues with offshore drilling management that were realized with the Gulf Coast spill. In addition the bill would authorize more research and development on offshore drilling and safety, and would require more training for employees.

The bill would create legislation implementing the changes Interior Secretary Salazar made to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Additionally, it would create an Outer Continental Shelf Safety and Environmental Advisory Board to provide independent assessment and advice. The legislation would examine drilling plans more closely; including engineering reviews of blowout prevention systems, and would extend the current 30 day timeline for federal approval of exploration plans to 90 days. Enforcement would be increased, with required investigations for employee allegations of safety risks and more frequent Department of the Interior (DOI) inspections and reviews.

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 10. House Committee Approves Oil Spill Accountability Bill

In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the Oil Spill Accountability and Environmental Protection Act (H.R.5629). The bill, which is sponsored by Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), eliminates the $75 million liability cap on oil spill damages, increases the mandatory insurance level from $150 million to $1.5 billion and enacts a host of other reforms. The bill requires stricter reviews of drilling safety plans and requires oil drilling vessels to register in the U.S. Many vessels, like the Deepwater Horizon rig, register in the Marshall Islands because of their lax safety requirements.

The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency to study the toxicity and effectiveness of oil dispersants and expands the Coast Guard’s role in offshore drilling regulation. The bill allocates $75 million in additional funding over the next five years to the Coast Guard so that it can add 300 people to its workforce, provide more training, and conduct inspections and address potential worst-case scenarios during reviews. Some committee members fear that the sweeping reforms will drive away the offshore oil industry, which the Gulf region depends on for jobs and money from royalties.

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 11. Committee Passes Arctic Mapping Bill

The House Natural Resources committee unanimously approved H.R. 2864, to increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) mapping efforts in the Arctic to delineate the extent of the U.S. continental shelf and ensure safe navigation of the Arctic Ocean. The bill, introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), amends the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to NOAA to acquire hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services, and conduct coastal change analyses as necessary to reach those goals. $10 million over the next two years would be dedicated to new hydrographic data and $5 million towards mapping the continental shelf.

Though NOAA can currently complete Arctic mapping, Young thinks the legislation is necessary to push NOAA forward more quickly. With a diminishing extent of sea ice, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to those looking for natural resources and new shipping lanes. Knowing the extent of the U.S. continental shelf will help the U.S. lay claim to potentially resource-rich territory in the Arctic. The data collection funded by the bill will help create a baseline map for any new energy development and safe navigation routes.

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 12. Abandoned Mine Clean-Up Amendment Passes Committee

On June 21, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee passed legislation (S. 2830)  that would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to broaden the uses of cleanup funds.  The 1977 act established the Abandoned Mine Fund, which collects royalties from coal production to cleanup abandoned coal mines. Some states also use the money to restore abandoned hardrock mines, which do not have a comparable cleanup program. It was unclear if the funds could legally be used for programs other than coal mine cleanup. S. 2830, sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), amends the act to clearly allow states to use these funds for abandoned gold, copper and uranium mines.

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 13. Avalanche Mitigation Legislation Passes Committee

On June 21 the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the Federal Land Avalanche Protection Act (S.2907). The bill establishes an avalanche protection program to identify and inform the public about the potential for avalanches on federal lands and provides grants for research to improve avalanche forecasting, prevention, detection and mitigation. The bill would authorize new projects to reduce the avalanche threat to transportation, utilities, and communications, and to ensure the availability of adequate artillery and explosives required for avalanche control. Grants for the research and development of alternatives to military weapons for avalanche control are also authorized in the bill.

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 14. Bill Introduced to Strengthen Nonprofit Collaboration with Federal Agencies

On June 15 Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act of 2010 (H.R.5533), legislation that seeks to strengthen the partnership between the nonprofit sector and the federal government. The bill would bring together leaders from nonprofits, foundations, businesses and all levels of the government in a council called the “United States Council on Nonprofit Organizations and Community Solutions.” The council would identify high-priority issues and make recommendations to Congress and the administration.

The Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act would also create an “Interagency Working Group on Nonprofit Organizations and the Federal Government” to improve coordination among agencies and nonprofit organizations with the aim of enhancing outcomes and accountability. Finally, the bill would authorize the Department of Commerce to compile data on nonprofits and develop metrics for performance, as it does for private sector industries. The bill has been endorsed by the National Council of Nonprofits.

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 15. Senator Robert C. Byrd Dies at 92

Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, died June 28, 2010. Senator Byrd had been admitted to the hospital the week before due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, but his staff added that other conditions developed after. Byrd was first elected to the House in 1952 and served three terms. In 1958 Byrd began his career in the U.S. Senate, which spanned eleven presidential administrations. He was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member of the United States Congress at the time of his passing. He led the Democratic caucus as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader. He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate when the Democratic Party had a majority and as President pro tempore he was third in line of presidential succession behind Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House of Representative Nancy Pelosi. For many years, Byrd was the leading Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee and provided support for many West Virginia initiatives through the committee. Senator Byrd made headlines by encouraging the coal industry, an integral part of the West Virginia economy, to cooperate with energy regulators. He recently voted against the Murkowski Resolution, saying that environmental legislation and regulation was inevitable, and it would be better for West Virginia to maintain the coal industry by working with environmental regulators.

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin will appoint a replacement to serve for less than two years. A special election will not be held until November 2012 because the filing deadline has passed. The special election will determine a successor for the final two months of Senator Byrd’s term. Governor Manchin, a Democrat, who is interested in serving in the Senate, has not announced who will replace Byrd, and maintains that he does not have a specific timeline for doing so.

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 16. MMS Gets a Name Change, Just Call it “BOE”

As of June 21, 2010, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has been re-organized. The Bureau of Ocean Energy, Reform and Management, or Bureau of Energy (BOE) for short, comes with reforms that attempt to remedy the problems of MMS uncovered by Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A new director accompanies the name change. Michael Bromwich, the former Justice Department Inspector General, will head BOE as it initiates multiple reforms.

The reforms include separating the conflicting missions of BOE into three different departments: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue. Stronger safety requirements will be issued to outer continental shelf (OCS) operators, including new blowout prevention requirements. A six month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf is a part of the reforms. The Department of the Interior (DOI) maintains the necessity of the moratorium in order to implement the new safety regulations in the Gulf of Mexico. A recent court ruling struck down the moratorium and DOI is currently considering next steps.

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 17. EPA Sets Stricter Sulfur Dioxide Limits

On June 3, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new health standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions for the first time in nearly forty years. SO2 emissions have been linked to emphysema, asthma, respiratory distress, and bronchitis. The new one hour standard is set at 75 parts per billion (ppb) of SO2. This level is designed to protect against short-term exposure because research indicates that short-term exposure poses the greatest risk to human health. As a result of this, the EPA revoked the previous standard, which allowed 140 ppb SO2 averaged over a twenty four hour period. The EPA is also increasing monitoring of sulfur dioxide, requiring that monitoring stations be implemented where emissions affect largely populated areas, and changing the Air Quality Index to reflect the new standards.

The new rule only addresses the primary standards affected by SO2; protection of public health. Secondary standards—those protecting public welfare and the environment—will be addressed in a separate review set for completion in 2012.

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 18. EPA Supports Reinstating “Polluter Pays” Tax

The Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have asked Congress to reinstate the “polluter pays” tax on petroleum and chemical companies that once helped pay for Superfund site cleanup. The tax expired in 1995 and was never renewed by Congress. Since 1995, the fund has dwindled from $5 billion to $65 million and since 2003 cleanup of so-called “orphaned” sites, where no responsible party can be found, has depended on congressional appropriations. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson estimated that reinstating the Superfund tax—four fees on crude oil, imported petroleum and chemical products, and corporate taxable income—would raise $18.9 billion over 10 years and help speed the rate of site cleaned up.

On June 22 the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health held a hearing to discuss the Polluter Pays Restoration Act (S.3164), legislation introduced by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that closely follows the EPA’s proposal. A full summary of this hearing can be found here. The testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing, can be found here.

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 19. EPA Seeks Public Comment on Strategic Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft of its fiscal year 2011-2015 strategic plan, and is seeking public comment. Administrator Lisa Jackson’s primary priorities over the next five years include: taking action on climate change, improving air quality, protecting America’s waters, cleaning up our communities, assuring the safety of chemicals, expanding the conversation of environmentalism and working for environmental justice, and building strong state and tribal partnerships. Information on the draft plan can be found on the EPA’s website, and comments on the draft may be submitted here through July 30. The docket ID number is EPA-OA-0486. The final strategic plan will be released by September 30.

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 20. NSF Survey Shows U.S. Business Spent $330 Billion on Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and US Census Bureau have released preliminary results from their new joint Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDS). The report details the current state of research and development in the U.S. business sector and provides an official measure of R&D in the private sector. The report found that in 2008, U.S. and U.S. affiliated firms spent $330 billion on research and development, of which $294 billion (88%) was conducted at companies’ own facilities within the U.S. Among manufacturers, the industry with the greatest R&D spending was pharmaceuticals and medicines. For further details, view the complete report.

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 21. Italian Scientists May Face Manslaughter Charges for 2009 L’Aquila

Seven senior Italian scientists and officials, employees of the Italian National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) and the Civil Protection Department, are under investigation and may face charges of manslaughter for failing to warn the city of L’Aquila before an earthquake hit in March 2009. Days before the earthquake, the scientists and officials attended a meeting of the Major Risks Committee with L’Aquila officials where it was decided that a series of small tremors did not necessarily signal an imminent hazard, although it was noted that a large earthquake was not impossible. On April 6, 2009, the city was struck by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in the middle of the night, collapsing stone buildings that lacked reinforcement and killing 308 people.

INVG has written an open letter of support for the Italian scientists to the President of Italy, urging the charges to be dropped. The letter reads, “The allegations against the scientists are completely unfounded. Years of research worldwide have shown that there is currently no scientifically accepted method for short-term earthquake prediction that can reliably be used by Civil Protection authorities for rapid and effective emergency actions.” As of June 24, over 5,000 people, including many geoscientists, have signed the letter.

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 22. Successful Private Rocket Launch and New Plans for Mars

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, launched its first successful rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 3. The rocket, a 154-foot and 735,000-pound Falcon 9, reached its target orbit of 155-miles above the Earth's surface. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, called the launch a great success that achieved 100 percent of their objectives.

The launch success comes as President Obama touts commercial spaceflight as the replacement for the NASA human spaceflight program cut in his fiscal year 2011 budget request. Obama’s budget discontinues the Constellation program, which was working on future manned mission to the moon and eventually Mars, and instead increases reliance on commercial spaceflight especially for more immediate access to the International Space Station (ISS). The cuts have forced NASA to develop a new strategic plan for getting to Mars that emphasizes in-orbit refueling stations to reduce the size of the rockets and a nuclear-powered engine.

Many members of Congress fear that the cancellation of NASA’s manned missions and a shift to research, Earth observations and development on heavy lift shuttles and robotics, signals the end of U.S. dominance in human spaceflight. They also worry commercial spaceflight is not a safe or capable replacement. The success of the SpaceX rocket may help assuage these fears. SpaceX plans on launching more test rockets in the next year, and hopes to eventually get a contract with NASA to bring cargo to the ISS.

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 23. IEA Releases New Study on Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released the report Energy Subsidies: Getting the Prices Right on June 7, 2010. It identifies thirty seven countries that offer subsidies to reduce the price of fossil fuels to levels lower than what they would be in an unadjusted market, leading to higher consumption of fossil fuels. It reports that governments spent $557 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2008, but since then some countries have made reforms to reduce subsidies.

The Group of 20 (G-20) nations decided to phase out oil and gas subsidies last year. The report states that this would decrease greenhouse gas emissions along with energy consumption. The IEA’s study acknowledges the political obstacles of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, citing governments’ dedication to providing citizens with low cost energy.

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 24. Marcellus Well Explodes, Renews Push for Fracking Regulations

On June 3, 2010, operators lost control of a natural gas well in Pennsylvania. The well, operated by EOG Resources, Inc., was tapping the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation believed to contain a large supply of natural gas. The ensuing blowout caused 35,000 gallons of drilling fluid to be released. On June 7, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered EOG to halt all drilling until the incident could be investigated.

The explosion increased the pressure for legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking is a process used in oil and gas production to release hydrocarbons in compact rocks by blasting water, chemicals, and sand to crack open rocks. The process has gained attention due to concerns that the hydraulic fracturing drilling fluids may be contaminating groundwater. Currently, regulations on hydraulic fracturing are managed by individual states, but there is demand for the federal government to step in. The proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness Act of 2009 (H.R.2766), introduced by Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), would require drilling operators to disclose the chemicals used in fracturing fluids. It is currently stalled in committee while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a study on fracking fluids’ impact on water supplies. A similar senate bill (S.1215) introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is waiting in committee.

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 25. Penn State Clears Climate Scientist, Michael Mann, of Misconduct

A panel of tenured professors at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) completed a four month internal investigation of PSU Professor Michael Mann. Mann, a noted climate scientist, was under investigation for alleged research impropriety after thousands of hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England were posted online. The press release, background and full report are available from PSU.

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 26. Public Understanding of Science Examined

The American Academy of Art and Sciences (AAAS) released a paper summarizing the findings of its study on Improving the Scientific Community’s Understanding of Public Concerns about Science and Technology. AAAS held four workshops on topics where there is concern about scientific work: The Next Generation of the Internet, Public Perception of Nuclear Waste Repositories, The Spread of Personal Genetic Information, and The Risks and Benefits of Emerging Energy Technologies. More than 50 scientists, engineers, public policy experts, lawyers, ethicists, and journalists participated in the workshops, which examined the ways in which scientists engage with the public and how their mutual understanding could be improved.

The summary paper, Do Scientists Understand the Public?, was written by Chris Mooney, author of books like Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (2009). He concludes that while the public’s hesitance to believe in evolution or global warming is often blamed on their scientific illiteracy, scientists’ understanding of the public is also lacking. In particular, scientists often fail to realize that a more informed public does not necessarily side with scientists more frequently. Mooney recommends a more interdisciplinary approach to presenting scientific issues, involving social scientists and communications specialists. He also recommends a more forward-thinking approach, where controversies can be identified and mitigated before they result in conflict.

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 27. Hazards Caucus Alliance Holds Briefings on Drought, Hurricanes

The Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance in cooperation with the Congressional Hazards Caucus held briefings on drought policy and hurricanes on June 30th. The drought briefing compared the 1992 Australian National Drought Policy with U.S. drought policy development and implementation. More information, including PDFs of presentations, can be found here.

The hurricane briefing, with introductory remarks from Congressional Hazards Caucus Co-Chair, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), discussed hurricane potential in the Gulf of Mexico and the possible impact on the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For more information, including presentation PDFs, can be found at the website.

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 28. Geoscience Booths at Inaugural USA Science and Technology Festival

Washington DC will host the inaugural USA Science and Technology Festival from October 10-24 on the National Mall. With over 500 booths, speakers, and performances, there will be something for everyone. Representing the geosciences will be booths from AGI, GSA, USGS, SSSA and AGU. For more information, see the festival website at:

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 29. AGI Government Affairs Welcomes Third Summer Intern

AGI and AIPG are happy to welcome Kiya Wilson as the third and final summer intern in the Government Affairs Program. Kiya is a rising senior at Oregon State University, where she is an Earth Science major. Kiya participated in the NSF-REU program at Oregon State, where she studied glacial-interglacial climate variability as recorded in coastal margin marine sediments. She has continued the work as an undergraduate thesis and presented her findings at GSA and AGU conferences. Kiya travels to us directly from Svalbard, where she has spent the last six months studying high arctic climate change and glacial hydrology. In her ‘free time,’ Kiya loves backcountry skiing, spelunking, and photography.  Kiya intends to pursue graduate work in polar climate studies, and is eager to spend the summer in DC learning how her future scientific work can best impact policymaking.

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 30. Key Reports and Publications

***Government Accountability Office***

Oil Spills: Cost of Major Spills May Impact Viability of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund
Released June 16, 2010. The spill's total cost is unknown, but may result in considerable costs to the private sector, as well as federal, state, and local governments. GAO previously reported on the Fund and factors driving the cost of oil spills and is beginning work on the April 2010 spill. This testimony focuses on (1) how oil spills are paid for, (2) the factors that affect major oil spill costs, and (3) implications of major oil spill costs for the Fund.

Oil and Gas Management: Key Elements to Consider for Providing Assurance of Effective Independent Oversight Released June 17, 2010. In response to the recent oil spill, the Secretary of the Interior has proposed reorganizing MMS. Over the past 5 years, GAO has issued numerous recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior to improve the agency's management of oil and gas resources by improving (1) technical expertise in the agency, (2) performance of analyses and reviews, (3) enforcement of laws and regulations, (4) public access to information, and (5) the degree of independence in the agency. Overall, GAO's work in this area can be useful in evaluating key aspects of the Secretary's plans to reorganize MMS.

Superfund: EPA's Costs to Remediate Existing and Future Sites Will Likely Exceed Current Funding Levels Released June 22, 2010. This testimony summarizes the findings of the GAO’s report on funding issues related to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund program. To protect human health and the environment from the effects of hazardous substances, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980, which established the Superfund program. As of the end of fiscal year (FY) 2009, 1,269 of the most seriously contaminated sites were included on EPA's National Priorities List (NPL). The majority of the sites with unknown human exposure that have all of the work remaining to complete construction are in the remedial investigation phase, which is when EPA usually determines a site's human exposure status.

Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials Are Widely Used in Commerce, but EPA Faces Challenges in Regulating Risk Released June 25, 2010. The world market for products that contain nanomaterials is expected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2015. In this context, GAO (1) identified examples of current and potential uses of nanomaterials, (2) determined what is known about the potential human health and environmental risks from nanomaterials, (3) assessed actions EPA has taken to better understand and regulate the risks posed by nanomaterials as well as its authorities to do so, and (4) identified approaches that other selected national authorities and actions U.S. states have taken to address the potential risks associated with nanomaterials.

Environmental Satellites: Planning Required to Mitigate Near-term Risks and Ensure Long-term Continuity Released June 29, 2010. Environmental satellites provide data used for weather forecasting, measuring variations in climate over time, and predicting space weather. Due to the continuing cost, schedule, and tri-agency management challenges of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)--a key satellite acquisition managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)--the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) decided in February 2010 to disband NPOESS and, instead, to have NOAA and DOD undertake separate acquisitions. The report finds that until an interagency strategy for environmental observation is established, and a clear process for implementing it is in place, federal agencies will continue to procure their immediate priorities on an ad hoc basis.

***National Academy of Sciences***

Assessment of Technologies for Improving Light Duty Vehicle Fuel Economy
Prepublication released June 3, 2010. Assessment of Technologies for Improving Light Duty Vehicle Fuel Economy argues that various combinations of commercially available technologies could greatly reduce fuel consumption in passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles, minivans, and other light-duty vehicles without compromising vehicle performance or safety. The book focuses on fuel consumption--the amount of fuel consumed in a given driving distance rather than fuel economy. Because fuel consumption data indicate money saved on fuel purchases and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the book finds that vehicle stickers should provide consumers with fuel consumption data in addition to fuel economy information.

Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States
Released June 11, 2010. As part of the America's Energy Future project, Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States examines the potential for reducing energy demand through improving efficiency by using existing technologies, technologies developed but not yet utilized widely, and prospective technologies. The book evaluates technologies based on their estimated times to initial commercial deployment, and provides an analysis of costs, barriers, and research needs.

Review of the WATERS Network Science Plan
Released June 18, 2010. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has entertained the Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network as one possible initiative whereby NSF could provide the advances in the basic science needed to respond effectively to the challenge of managing water resources. The WATERS Network, a joint initiative of the Engineering, the Geosciences, and the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorates at NSF, is envisioned as an integrated national network of observatories and experimental facilities supporting research, outreach, and education on large-scale, water-related environmental problems. This book, the final of a series about the WATERS project, provides a more detailed review of the Science Plan and provides advice on collaborating with other federal agencies.

Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty
Released June 22, 2010. Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty presents new and surprising findings about career differences between female and male full-time, tenure-track, and tenured faculty in science, engineering, and mathematics at the nation's top research universities. The book discusses the status of female faculty at top universities, clarifies whether male and female faculty have similar opportunities to advance and succeed in academia, challenges some commonly held views, and poses several questions still in need of answers. This book will be of special interest to university administrators and faculty, graduate students, policy makers, professional and academic societies, federal funding agencies, and others concerned with the vitality of the U.S. research base and economy.

Waste Forms Technology and Performance: Interim Report
Released June 23, 2010. The Waste Forms Technology and Performance study examines requirements for waste form technology and performance in the context of the disposal system in which the waste will be emplaced. The Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management requested this interim report to provide timely information for fiscal year (FY) 2011 technology development planning. The report is focused on (1) state-of-the-art tests and models of waste forms used to predict their performance, (2) potential modifications of waste form production methods that may lead to more efficient production of waste forms and (3) potential new waste forms that may offer enhanced performance.

NOAA's Education Program: Review and Critique
Released June 25, 2010. NOAA uses formal and informal learning environments to enhance understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to advance environmental education. NOAA's Education Program: Review and Critique provides a summary of the national education context for NOAA's role in education which is twofold: first is to advance the environmental literacy of the nation, and second is to promote a diverse workforce in ocean, coastal, Great Lakes, atmospheric and climate sciences. The book also describes the strengths and weaknesses of the education strategic plan, the education evaluation approach of the agency and strategies for improving the evaluation process.

Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences
Released June 25, 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet outlines eleven strategic directions to focus research and leverage new technologies to harness the potential that the geographical sciences offer. The report argues that innovation in the geographical sciences has the potential to advance knowledge of place-based environmental change, sustainability, and the impacts of a rapidly changing economy and society.

Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy
Released June 29, 2010. Preparing Teachers addresses the issue of teacher preparation with specific attention to reading, mathematics, and science. The book evaluates the characteristics of the candidates who enter teacher preparation programs, the sorts of instruction and experiences teacher candidates receive in preparation programs, and the extent that the required instruction and experiences are consistent with converging scientific evidence. Its purpose is to ensure that the same critiques and questions are not being repeated 10 years from now.

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 31. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register can be accessed at:

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing an extension of the public comment period for two related draft documents: “The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields” (EPA/600/R-09/138A) and “A Field-based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams” (EPA/600/R-10/023A). The purpose of the first draft report is to assess the state of the science on the ecological impacts of Mountaintop Mining and Valley Fill operations on streams in the Central Appalachian Coal Basin. The second draft report uses field data to derive an aquatic life benchmark for conductivity, a measurement of the salt content of water. This draft report provides scientific evidence for a conductivity benchmark in a specific region rather than for the entire United States. They are extending the comment period to give the public an opportunity to evaluate the data used to derive a benchmark for conductivity. The draft documents are available via the Internet on NCEA's home page under the Recent Additions and Publications menus at Comments must be submitted by July 13, 2010 electronically via, or by mail or facsimile. For information please contact the Office of Environmental Information Docket at (202) 566-1752 or e-mail:
[Monday, June 1, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 104)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tailoring the applicability criteria that determine which stationary sources and modification projects become subject to permitting requirements for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and title V programs of the Clean Air Act (CAA or Act). This rulemaking is necessary because without it PSD and title V requirements would apply, as of January 2, 2011, at the 100 or 250 tons per year (tpy) levels provided under the CAA, greatly increasing the number of required permits, imposing undue costs on small sources, overwhelming the resources of permitting authorities, and severely impairing the functioning of the programs. This rule establishes two initial steps of the phase-in. The rule also commits the agency to take certain actions on future steps addressing smaller sources, but excludes certain smaller sources from PSD and title V permitting for GHG emissions until at least April 30, 2016. For more information, contact Mr. Joseph Mangino at (919) 541-9778 or
[Thursday, June 3, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 106)]

MMS—The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is proposing to promulgate regulations establishing procedures to implement the provisions governing collection of delinquent royalties, rentals, bonuses, and other amounts due under leases and other agreements for the production of oil, natural gas, coal, geothermal energy, other minerals, and renewable energy from Federal lands onshore, Indian tribal and allotted lands, and the Outer Continental Shelf. Submit comments on or before August 9, 2010 at under Docket ID No. MMS-2009-MRM-0005. For comments or questions on procedural issues, contact Hyla Hurst at (303) 231-3495.
[Tuesday, June 8, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 109)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board Staff Office announces a public meeting of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Particulate Matter Review Panel to review EPA's forthcoming Policy Assessment for the Review of Particulate Matter National Ambient Air Quality Standards-- Second External Review Draft (June 2010). The meeting will be held on July 26, 2010 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and July 27, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Marriott at Research Triangle Park, 4700 Guardian Drive, Durham, NC 27703.  For further information contact Dr. Holly Stallworth at (202) 343-9867or at General information concerning the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee can be found at
[Wednesday, June 9, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 110)]

USGS—The U.S. Geological Survey has prepared a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of a Marine Geophysical Survey in the Arctic Ocean, August-September 2010 and is announcing the opening of the comment period. Copies of the Draft EA are available in the USGS Menlo Park Earth Science Information Center, the USGS Anchorage Earth Science Information Center, and at the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, Barrow, Alaska. Comments may be submitted at, or to Jonathan R. Childs at and must be received by July 11, 2010. [Friday, June 11, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 112)]

EPA—The Evironmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing the availability of the Draft FY 2011-2015 EPA Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan) for public review and comment. The Agency's final Strategic Plan will be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2010. The Strategic Plan provides the Agency's long-term direction and strategies to improve environmental and human health over the next five years. The Agency is particularly interested in feedback addressing the goal narratives, cross-cutting fundamental strategies, and strategic measures, with a focus on new directions and strategies. Submit comments on or before July 30, 2010 at using Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OA-2010-0486. For further information, contact Vivian Daub at [Friday, June 18, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 117)]

USGS—The Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) will hold an open meeting to discuss broad policy-related topics relating to national water initiatives, and the development and dissemination of water information, through reports from ACWI subgroups. The meeting will be held at the Crowne Plaza Dulles Airport, located at 2200 Centreville Road, Herndon, Virginia 20171 on July 13, 2010 and July 14, 2010. For further information, contact Ms. Wendy E. Norton at (703) 648-6810 or at [Friday June 18, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 117)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing four public informational meetings to explain its proposed plan to study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. The meetings are open to all interested parties and will be held in Fort Worth, Texas on July 8, 2010; Denver, Colorado on July 13, 2010; Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on July 22, 2010; and Binghamton, New York on August 12, 2010. EPA will provide the public with information about the Agency's preliminary plans for study scope and design, and EPA will receive public comments on the preliminary plans during the meetings. More specific information regarding the public meetings such as addresses for the meeting locations and agendas will be provided on the EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Web site at
_safewater/uic/wells_hydrofrac.html. Pre-register for the meetings at least 72 hours before each meeting at the following Web site: For further information, contact Jill Dean at (202) 564-8241 or at [Monday June 21, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 118)]

NOAA—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces a public review and comment period its Next Generation Strategic Plan (NGSP). The plan sets the course for the agency's mission, a vision of the future, the societal outcomes that NOAA aims to help realize, and, consequently, the actions that the agency must take. The draft plan lays the foundation for NOAA to play a leading Federal role in responding to the Nation's most urgent challenges, ranging from climate change, severe weather, and natural or human-induced disasters to declining biodiversity and threatened or degraded ocean and coastal resources. NOAA invites comments on the plan on its mission statement, vision of the future, long-term strategic goals and five-year objectives, enterprise components and five-year objectives, and strategic partnerships. The public comment period is until August 10, 2010. Comments can be submitted on the NGSP web site ( or email comment to For further information contact Marla Trollan, NGSP Communications Director, at or (302) 270-6288. [Tuesday June 29, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 124)]

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 32. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

·  Hearings on Energy Policy (7/01/10)
·  Hearings on Earth Observations (7/01/10)
·  Hearings on Environmental Policy (6/24/10)
·  Hearings on Water and Oceans Policy (6/24/10)
·  2010 GEO-CVD: Join Us!

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Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Elizabeth Brown, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Elizabeth Huss, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern and Kiya Wilson 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, American Institute of Physics, Ecological Society of America, National Center for Science Education, Government Accountability Office, Open CRS, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geosciences community that it serves. More information on these topcs can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Compiled July 2, 2010.


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