Monthly Review: July 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. Congressional Visits Day – Last Call to Action
    2. Appropriations at a Stand Still as Gas Prices and Federal Deficit Rise
    3. House Passes FOARAM Act of 2007
    4. Water Measures Flow Through House Committee
    5. Carbon Capture and Storage Bill Surfaces in House
    6. Congress Passes Higher Education Bill
    7. House Plays With Title IX for Science
    8. Senate Resolution Notes Importance of Soils
    9. Bush Lifts Ban on Offshore Drilling
    10. EPA Delays Greenhouse Gas Rules Until Next Administration
    11. USGS Releases Assessment of Oil and Gas in the Arctic
    12. USGS Calls on Southern Californians to Join Earthquake Drill
    13. NOAA Requests Comments on Climate Change Synthesis Report
    14. BLM Lifts Moratorium on New Solar Projects
    15. Federal Agencies Enter Blogosphere
    16. National Academies Seek Nominations for Climate Change Study
    17. G-8 Summit Agreement on Climate Change
    18. New Earth Science Agency Proposed
    19. Hurricane Bertha Sets Records
    20. Office of Technology Assessment Archive Available
    21. Report Calls for Attention to Groundwater Issues
    22. Final Call for AAAS PUST Award Nominations
    23. Earth Science Week
    24. Geotimes Becomes EARTH Magazine
    25. AGI Geopolicy Internship
    26. Key Reports and Publications
    27. Key Federal Register Notices
    28. New Updates to the Web

1. Congressional Visits Day – Last Call to Action

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 or to volunteer to participate by sending an email to govt@agiweb.org

2. Appropriations at a Stand Still as Gas Prices and Federal Deficit Rise

Congress adjourned for an August recess without completing any of the 12 appropriation bills. The process has come to a screeching halt partly because of a lack of time and partly because of a contentious debate on ways to alleviate rising gasoline prices. Many Republicans and President Bush would like Congress to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling, which is contained in the Interior Department appropriation bill, as an indirect way to relieve anxiousness about high prices, even though such an approach cannot reduce prices now. President Bush lifted the executive order on the offshore moratorium in hopes of putting more pressure on Congress to follow suit, but many Democrats held firm on maintaining the moratorium. A stalemate has ensued and stopped work on appropriations until September. With little time and little agreement expected in September, a continuing resolution (CR) is very likely and Republicans have indicated they will press for lifting the offshore moratorium in the CR.

The House did succeed in approving a $72.7 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriation measure, but the outlook is bleak even for this lone bill approved by one chamber. President Bush has issued a veto threat for this bill and the eleven others, which have not even been completed, because the House bill is $3.4 billion more than the President’s request. The Administration is holding firm to a demand to stay within the overall budget levels in the President’s request or find spending offsets elsewhere. Congress is unlikely to acquiescence and the fall may be a very difficult time for Congress and the federal government.

Adding to decision-makers woes is news of a growing federal deficit. On July 29, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a $482 billion deficit for fiscal year 2009, about 3.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It is the highest deficit in terms of total dollars, exceeding a record $413 billion deficit in 2004, but not the highest deficit by percentage of GDP (the 2004 deficit was 3.6 percent of GDP). OMB Director Nussle called for restraint in domestic spending to help reduce the deficit, while Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) decried the Administration’s fiscal mismanagement.

On Wednesday, July 30, 2008, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) announced a $24.1 billion emergency supplemental plan for the Senate to consider in September. On the same day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) noted an emergency supplemental and the CR will be on the House agenda in the fall. The Senate emergency supplemental would include some funding for geoscience-related activities and almost half of the funding, about $10.1 billion, would go toward natural disasters (e.g. recent floods and wildfires). Funding of interest to the geoscience community includes $250 million to cleanup Energy Department nuclear sites, $150 million for Energy Department science, $200 million for Agriculture Department assistance for rural water projects, $150 million for Agriculture Department emergency watershed programs, $200 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s sewage programs, $1.2 billion for emergency road and bridge repair, $910 million for the Interior Department and Forest Service, primarily related to wildfires and $1.8 billion in disaster relief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The fall outlook for this supplemental plan is also very uncertain.

3. House Passes FOARAM Act of 2007

The House passed the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174) on July 9, 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) which was passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on May 22, 2008. 

As the oceans absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, the water is becoming more acidic.  The consequences pose serious threats for marine life.  "On top of overfishing, pollution and rising water temperatures, ocean acidification is stress that could dramatically and permanently alter our ocean environments," said House Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since industrialization and increased carbon dioxide emissions have the potential to lower pH to its lowest level in 20 million years.

The FOARAM Act would establish an interagency committee tasked with coordinating ocean acidification activities across federal agencies.  The Senate version of the bill, S. 1581, specifies that a representative from NOAA chair the committee and membership include representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  In both bills, the interagency committee would be responsible for organizing and expanding research programs with the following 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. The legislation also would establish an ocean acidification program within NOAA.

Additionally, H.R. 4174 outlines research goals for NSF and NASA, which include the development of methodologies to examine ocean acidification and its impact and the use of space-based monitoring of acidification, respectively.  H.R. 4174 would authorize appropriations for NOAA at $8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009 increasing to $20 million in FY 2012, and for NSF at $6 million in FY 2009 to $15 million in FY 2012. 

Unfortunately, the Senate rejected S.1581 and several other ocean research and conservation bills on July 29, 2008 just before leaving for their August recess. The rejected S.1581 would have authorized $10 million in appropriations in FY 2009 increasing to $30 million in FY 2013 with 40 percent of the funding retained by NOAA and 60 percent allocated equally to NSF, USGS, NASA, and FWS.

A large omnibus of 34 bills had been created in the Senate to try to surpass the holds placed on many of these non-controversial measures by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The “omnibus” included S.1581, a BEACH act (S.2844) to help states monitor beach water quality, a bill to authorize the National Integrated Oceans Observing System (S.950), a bill to re-authorize the National Sea Grant College Program (S.3160), a bill to re-authorize and expand support for countries to conserve tropical forests and coral reefs, a measure to promote renewable energy in the Appalachian region (S.496) and a measure to extend the authority of a federal fund that invests in U.S.-based companies that work on projects in developing countries, including a new request to comply with climate change mitigation policies.

Click here for a hearing summary on the FOARAM Act.

The full text of H.R. 4174 is available from Thomas at:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.04174:
The full text of S. 1581 is available from Thomas at:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.01581:

4. Water Measures Flow Through House Committee

Concerns about future water shortages prompted the passage of two bills from the House Science and Technology Committee. Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said, “Dwindling water supplies across the United States continue to percolate as a major disaster on our nation’s horizon. Despite tremendous spring rains in some states, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that severe drought still grips the American Southeast, California, the Rocky Mountains, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle.”  “In an effort to protect the country from an impending water scarcity crisis, the Committee has begun to search out ways for the federal government to spur new technological innovations in water research and development,” added Gordon.

H.R. 3957, the Water Use Efficiency and Conservation Research Act, introduced by Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT) would create a research and development program at the Environmental Protection Agency to promote water use efficiency and conservation. The program would develop technologies and processes that enable the collection, treatment, and reuse of rainwater and grey water.  The program would also examine the behavioral, social, and economic barriers to achieving greater water use efficiency.

About 2.3 billion gallons of water is produced each day in conjunction with natural resource extraction, but currently the water is not clean enough for reuse. The second bill, the Produced Water Utilization Act of 2007 (H.R. 2339), introduced by Ralph Hall (R-TX), would establish a program within the Department of Energy to improve technologies to allow for the reuse of water produced during oil and gas extraction for agriculture, irrigation, municipal or industrial purposes. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate for either bill.

The full text of H.R. 3957 is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.03957:
The full text of H.R. 2339 is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.02339:

5. Carbon Capture and Storage Bill Surfaces in House

If passed, the Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act (H.R. 6258), a bill introduced in June, 2008 by House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chairman Rick Boucher, would create a technology fund to accelerate the development and deployment of systems to capture and store carbon dioxide produced at electricity-generating facilities that utilize fossil fuels.

According to the bill, the Carbon Storage Research Corporation would be managed by members from various sectors of the utilities industry. The corporation’s purpose would be to administer grants for private, academic, and government research projects related to the acceleration of the commercial demonstration and availability of carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS). Grant monies would be generated via taxes levied on the consumers of fossil-fuel based electricity, with different rates for different fuels depending on how much carbon dioxide they emit when burned.

At the July 10th hearing on H.R. 6258, Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) predicted the bill is the only climate change-related legislation with a chance of passage in this Congress: “My guess is that this is the only bill that might actually become law this year,” he said. However, the fund would have no government oversight, which many members are at odds with. Boucher has asked for the issue of oversight to be addressed before the bill is marked up, or voted on by the subcommittee.

The full text of H.R. 6258 can be found here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.06258:
A summary of the hearing can be found here: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis110/climate_hearings.html

6. Congress Passes Higher Education Bill

On Thursday, July 31, 2008, Congress passed a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act (H.R. 4137) by overwhelming majorities in both chambers. The measure marks the first major revision of the act since 2003. The measure requires colleges to provide tuition information and to rein in rising tuition prices, tries to restore integrity and accountability to the student loan process, simplifies federal student aid applications, tries to make textbook costs more manageable, expands support for low-income and minority students, expands aid for veterans and members of the military, ensures equal opportunities for students with disabilities, improves campus safety and disaster readiness plans and encourages colleges to adopt energy-efficient practices. Of particular interest to the geoscience community, the bill provides incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.4137:

7. House Plays With Title IX for Science

Title IX may move beyond sports equality, John Tierney suggests in his New York Times article entitled “A New Frontier for Title IX: Science” on July 15, 2008.  The Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or more commonly referred to as Title IX, does not specifically single out athletes but broadly covers all gender discrimination in education and federal programs.  It states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Federal investigation of Title IX compliance in the sciences was first talked about 8 years ago by Debra Rolison, a chemist for the Naval Research Laboratory.  She wanted to bar federal funding to “poorly diversified departments.” Her ideas were initially met with opposition.  More recently, though, pressure from Congress has caused several federal agencies to begin examining universities that receive federal grants for signs of under-representation.  So far examinations have not resulted in any dramatic changes in science departments or federal funding. 

The House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education has held hearings on fulfilling the potential of women in science and engineering this Congress. Additionally, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has introduced legislation that would require workshops to educate program officers, members of grant review panels, department chairs, and other federally funded researchers about methods that minimize the effects of gender bias in evaluation of Federal research grants.

As it is, the number of degrees awarded to the women in the geosciences has increased steadily since 1990 with females representing 45% of degree recipients in 2007.  Increases can be seen in other science disciplines as well.  However, there has been little increase in the number of female professors.  This does not necessarily indicate women are not going into teaching.  There may simply be a lag between the rising number of doctoral graduates and the appearance of more women faculty, especially since a 1994 federal ban on age discrimination ended mandatory professor retirement at 65 and slowed professor turnover.  Nonetheless some believe that unintended biases in university policies have made it more difficult for women to advance.  A National Academy of Science study, entitled “Beyond Bias,” finds that women are paid less, are promoted more slowly, hold fewer leadership positions, and receive fewer honors than their male counterparts.  The gender disparity is not related to performance measurements, the study claimed.

The interest of Congress in narrowing the gender gap in the sciences has some concerned.  By looking at the university level, the studies are ignoring those who say the gender gap begins much earlier with fewer girls taking an interest in the subject during high school. Women in the sciences are worried that Title IX quota systems could hurt them and the sciences by enforcing old stereotypes that women are not capable scientists or by hindering merit-based research by focusing on meeting quotas.  Tierney concluded that the federal government is investigating a problem that may not exist instead of working to increase the funding levels for the sciences. Regardless of the use of Title IX in the sciences, encouraging under-represented populations to pursue science careers is a worthy goal.

The full NY Times article can be found here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/science/15tier.html?pagewanted=1
The women in the geosciences statistics can be found here:
http://www.agiweb.org/workforce/Currents-009-GenderintheAcademicCommunity.pdf
The National Academy of Science study can be found here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11741#toc
Information on House hearings can be found here: http://science.house.gov/publications/hearings_markups_details.aspx?NewsID=2180

8. Senate Resolution Notes Importance of Soils

On June 23rd, 2008 the Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 440) calling for the sustainable use of soil resources. The resolution was introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on January 31, 2008. The resolution highlights the important role soils play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and serving as the foundation for numerous human activities, including agricultural production. The resolution also recognizes the need “to improve knowledge, exchange information, and develop and implement best practices for soil management, soil restoration, carbon sequestration, and long-term use of the Nation's soil resources,” as well as “the important role of soil scientists and soils professionals” in education, outreach and experience.

On July 18th the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science sponsored a symposium entitled "Soil: Sustaining Life on Planet Earth", to emphasize the importance of soils and to celebrate the opening of the soils exhibit, Dig It! The Secrets of Soil, at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. Presentations addressed the role of soil in the rise and fall of civilizations, anthropogenic influences on soil resources, and the importance of soils in ecosystem function and in sustaining life on Earth.

The soils exhibition, sponsored by the Soil Science Society of America, was opened to the public on July 19th and will run until January 3, 2010.  The exhibit includes 54 state and territory monoliths on loan from the National Resources Conservation Service within the Department of Agriculture (USDA). And according to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer, “This exhibition reminds our nation about the importance and benefits of healthy and productive soils. Soils are a vital resource; they are the foundation of life. We should protect them and do what we can to increase public awareness about their significance.”

The full text of the resolution is available from Thomas at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:S.RES.440:

9. Bush Lifts Ban on Offshore Drilling

On July 14, 2008 President George W. Bush lifted the 18-year-old executive ban on expanding offshore drilling, a ban that was put in place by his father, President George H.W. Bush.  Last month, the President asked Congress to lift their ban, saying he would then lift the executive moratorium.  Congress resisted his request, causing President Bush to move ahead without lawmakers.  The move does not completely open up the continental shelf to drilling, since Congress continues to renew a separate ban as part of the Department of the Interior (DOI) appropriations bill as they have done since the early 1980s. However, now the President can accuse Congress of blocking oil and gas exploration because, as he said, “Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court.”

The move is viewed as highly political, adding more pressure to an already intense energy battle consuming Congress.  With increasing prices at gasoline pumps and calls to become less reliant on foreign oil, the option of offshore drilling has been gaining political and public support.  In recent polls, the majority of the public is in favor of offshore drilling.  Even Democrats who have been staunchly opposed in the past are working on measures to open up offshore leases, or at least pass legislation showing their support of domestic production.  Still, Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate remain adamant about upholding the ban. They note that new leases will not reduce current gas prices and companies already have leases they are not pursuing.  The debate has become so contentious that it has brought progress on individual appropriation bills to a stand still in both chambers. 

The Democrats continue to push bills aimed at curbing energy speculation and extending tax credits for renewables while Republicans try to add amendments on offshore drilling, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids.  If the DOI appropriations bill is delayed past the end of the fiscal year in September and a continuing resolution fails to be signed, then the President’s executive order could allow drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS).  The stalled negotiation over energy legislation is garnering attention from the “Gang of 10,” a bipartisan group advocating a plan that would require concessions from both sides.  Their proposed plan calls for relaxed leasing bans on the OCS, repealing oil industry tax breaks and funding major investments in renewable energy and conservation. The gang is planning to draft a bill over the August recess, which they hope to move on the Senate floor in September.

10. EPA Delays Greenhouse Gas Rules Until Next Administration

On July 11, 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would delay consideration of using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases and would instead seek public comment on the feasibility of such regulations for the next 120 days. This decision will leave the possible regulation of greenhouse gases by the EPA to the next Administration to decide. The 588-page rulemaking notice summarizes the EPA’s work over the past 15 months, but it excludes a controversial December 2007 draft endangerment finding. EPA has been working on this issue because a Supreme Court ruling last year mandated that EPA must determine if such emissions endanger public health and if so, the agency must regulate greenhouse gases. Proponents of regulations are calling the EPA actions just another effort to stall regulations of greenhouse gases.

11. USGS Releases Assessment of Oil and Gas in the Arctic

On July 23, 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released an assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle of which 84 percent occurs in offshore areas.  The estimates of 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were determined using a geology-based probabilistic methodology and account for 13 and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, respectively. The study included resources considered technically recoverable using existing technologies, but did not include economic factors, the presence of permanent sea ice or oceanic water depth in the determination. 

Brenda Pierce, a USGS scientist involved in the assessment, indicated that after the release of the World Petroleum Assessment in 2000, USGS realized a large part of the world, the Arctic, which covers about 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, was missing from the estimate. The four-year effort, resulting in the first map of Arctic sedimentary basins, drew upon research and data from Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Arctic assessment presented challenges due to a lack of data for the region and as Donald Gautier, USGS geologist and lead for the assessment project, said the study would not have been possible if not for the “generous help from a number of international organizations and individuals.”

USGS officials noted that this is an inventory of resources and not a call for increased drilling activities.  “Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there,” said USGS Director Mark Myers. “With this assessment, we're providing the same information to everyone in the world so that the global community can make those difficult decisions.” 

For more information on the USGS Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal and to see the results of the assessment, please visit http://energy.usgs.gov/arctic.

12. USGS Calls on Southern Californians to Join Earthquake Drill

After the magnitude 5.4 earthquake on July 29, 2008 in southern California, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a press release encouraging southern Californians to register for the Great Southern California ShakeOut on November 13, 2008. With a goal of at least 5 million participants, the ShakeOut drill will be the largest in U.S. history. To participate, go to www.ShakeOut.org/register and pledge your family, school, business, or organization’s participation in the drill. Registered participants will receive information on how to plan their drill, connect with other participants, and encourage a dialogue with others about earthquake preparedness. There are many ways to take part, but at the least participants should “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” at 10 A.M. on November 13. It all begins with registering, which is free and open to everyone.

For more information, visit www.ShakeOut.org and be sure to visit the official ShakeOut Blog at greatsocalshakeout.blogspot.com.

13. NOAA Requests Comments on Climate Change Synthesis Report

On July 17, 2008 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the first draft of a report entitled the “U.S. Climate Change Science Program Unified Synthesis Product (USP).”  The purpose of the report is to synthesize the large body of scientific information regarding climate change and its potential impacts into a single coherent document that can inform decision-making at all levels.  The report focuses primarily on the impacts of climate change on the U.S. with estimates of impacts on various sectors of the economy and regions of the country, but it also addresses adaptation and mitigation options and highlights gaps in scientific understanding.  NOAA is soliciting public comment on the draft report until August 14, 2008.  To read the report and for instructions on how to submit comments visit: http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/usp/public-review-draft/

14. BLM Lifts Moratorium on New Solar Projects

On July 2, 2008 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will continue accepting applications for new solar development projects.  The announcement came barely a month after BLM banned any new permits in six Western states pending an agency conducted Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the area.  The study was projected to take two years, but public and congressional concern that the ban would halt solar development led BLM to rescind their decision. Instead, BLM will continue processing the applications it received before the ban and will accept new applications while completing the EIS.  Solar energy advocates are pleased with the announcement, but feel the BLM still needs to be pressured to accelerate permitting for solar projects on public land.  Representative Mark Udall (D-CO), an advocate for lifting the ban, said this in response to BLM’s reversal: “This decision sends the right message to the renewable energy industry that we are committed to working with them to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and increase our energy independence in an environmentally sound way.”

15. Federal Agencies Enter Blogosphere

Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and NASA Goddard are embracing “new media” outlets, using blogs to put “a human face” on organizations that often seem opaque.  The federal agencies are viewing blogging as a way to reach a broader audience regarding the general duties of the agency, but topics addressed in the posting are often non-controversial.  The EPA blog, Greenversations, posts contributions from multiple staff from around the country rather than focusing on a primary author.  Other examples of blog posts include one on the Army Corps’ blog, Corps e-spondence by Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp, Chief of Engineers, on the flooding in the Midwest, and another by DOT Secretary Mary Peters outlining a new transportation plan she was going to unveil in Atlanta on DOT’s blog, Fast Lane.

For a complete listing of federal agency blogs visit: http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Reference_Shelf/News/blog.shtml

16. National Academies Seek Nominations for Climate Change Study

The National Academies are seeking nominations of potential committee members and panelists for the major climate change study. In response to a request from Congress, the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, in collaboration with many other units around the National Academies, is planning to launch a series of coordinated activities to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and provide advice on actions and strategies the nation can take to respond. Collectively, the study will produce a broad, action-oriented, and authoritative set of analyses to inform and guide responses to climate change across the nation. To submit nominations, please use the online form, be sure to indicate the committee or panel(s) for which you are nominating the person, and briefly describe why you are nominating them for this particular activity. Priority consideration will be given to nominations received by July 31, 2008.

More details are available at: http://dels.nas.edu/basc/climate-change/

17. G-8 Summit Agreement on Climate Change

On July 9, 2008 in Hokkaido, Japan, the Group of Eight -- the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan – pledged to “move toward a carbon-free society” and agreed to a “global goal” of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.   While the overall reduction goal was met with enthusiasm, the lack of details in the agreement was unsatisfying to many.  For example, the agreement failed to specify the baseline for which reductions are to be measured. Using greenhouse gas emission levels from 1990 would mean reducing emissions an additional 25 percent compared to today’s levels, a significantly different and more difficult goal.  Additionally, the statement expressed strong support for the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technologies by 2020, but did not include specifics on who would pay for the technology or who would implement the plan within the specified timeframe.

However, the agreement did acknowledged the leadership role developed countries would take in reducing emissions stating, “We recognize that what the major developed economies do will differ from what major developing economies do, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. In this respect, we acknowledge our leadership role and each of us will implement ambitious economy-wide mid-term goals in order to achieve absolute emissions reductions and, where applicable, first stop the growth of emissions as soon as possible, reflecting comparable efforts among all developed economies, taking into account differences in their national circumstances.”  Unfortunately, the pledge of the developed nations to take the lead did not entice developing nations like India and China to sign the statement.  In fact, South Africa's environment minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said "As it is expressed in the G-8 statement, the long-term goal is an empty slogan without substance."

Many hope that despite the lack of concrete goals and the signature of developing countries, the G-8 declaration will be of assistance in finalizing a post-2012 treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in time for the meeting in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

18. New Earth Science Agency Proposed

In the July 4th issue of Science, seven former federal government leaders in the Earth and environmental sciences called for the formation of a new federal agency, an Earth Systems Science Agency (ESSA). The authors proposed ESSA be created from the fusion of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Cooperation between these existing agencies is not maximal at present and, because the United States faces, in the near future, extraordinary challenges that are in the purview of both agencies, the challenges would be more effectively confronted by an integrated, central, solitary agency, the authors claimed. Climate change, sea level rise, altered weather patterns, declines in freshwater supplies and quality, and loss of biodiversity were the challenges specified.

According to Charles Groat, former USGS Director, “The USGS, in bringing not only its geologic, biologic, hydrologic and geospatial expertise to the understanding of natural systems, but also its research capabilities in energy, mineral, water, and biologic resources, gives the new organization a comprehensive perspective on both environmental and resource systems. If we effectively link these capabilities with those of NOAA, we will have a powerful research institution.”

While the authors recommend the uniting of NOAA’s atmosphere and oceans programs and the USGS’s freshwater and terrestrial environment programs, they believe NASA’s Earth observation and remote sensing research should remain under NASA’s authority. The authors are optimistic that the new ESSA and NASA could work together successfully.

ESSA’s mission, the authors say, should be “to conduct and sponsor research, development, monitoring, educational, and communications activities in Earth system science.”

19. Hurricane Bertha Sets Records

Hurricanes have been active in the month of July with three named storms, and whether or not this is an indication of the rest of the season, July 2008 has already broken records.  Hurricane Bertha became the longest-lived July hurricane, lasting 7.75 days, ousting the previous record holder, hurricane Emily of 2005, which lasted 7 days.  Including the time Bertha spent as a tropical storm, it lasted a whopping 17.25 days, making it the fourth longest lived named storm since 1950.  Additionally, tropical storm and then hurricane Bertha’s formation at the 25 degree west longitude garners it the title of the farthest east forming storm in June or July on record. The National Weather Service, Climate Prediction Center’s 2008 hurricane outlook indicates a 90% probability for a near-normal or above-normal season, based among other things, on above average sea surface temperatures and a possible La Nina influence. Only time will tell if the 2008 hurricane season will set any more records.

20. Office of Technology Assessment Archive Available

The Federation of American Scientists has launched an archive of about 720 reports and documents produced by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). OTA served as an independent branch of the U.S. Congress that provided nonpartisan science and technology advice from 1972 until it was defunded and forced to close in 1995. The site also features a video interview with Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), who is leading the effort in Congress to re-instate the OTA.

Visit the Office of Technology Assessment Archive here: http://www.fas.org/ota
Watch the video of Congressman Rush Holt here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=BhAM-u2F0kI

21. Report Calls for Attention to Groundwater Issues

The Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) released a report to the Congressional Water Caucus on July 9 concerning the importance of establishing comprehensive groundwater policy. The report entitled Groundwater Report to the Nation: A Call to Action, examines nine groundwater policy areas suggesting action items for Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and State governments.  The areas covered include: use and availability, resource characterization and monitoring, source water protection, land use planning and development, storm water management, underground storage tanks, onsite wastewater treatment systems, underground injection control, and abandoned mines.

The report notes that although groundwater makes up about 90% of available freshwater and is the drinking water source for half the population, it is often “an overlooked and undervalued resource.” In 1996, the report recounts, “most USEPA regional offices experienced moderate to major reorganizations that resulted in the fragmentation or disinvestment in groundwater protection staff resources.” Groundwater has increased susceptibility to rates of depletion, saltwater intrusion, contamination, and stresses associated with land use changes. Population growth, climate change and energy demands can further compound the groundwater problems.

Among its specific suggestions, the report asks that groundwater be clearly defined as covered in the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts.  The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 2421, S. 1870) could answer this call. The bill would replace the phrase “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act of 1972 with the phrase “waters of the United States.” The latter phrase includes a much broader scope of federal jurisdiction and would encompass groundwater, marshes, and wetlands as well as surface waters.

Draft legislation for a National Water Research and Development Initiative, proposed by Bart Gordon (D-TN) this month could also help. The bill, discussed in a hearing on July 23, recommends an interagency committee designed to “coordinate all federal activities pertaining to water.”  It includes the implementation of a National Water Census to “create a comprehensive water database that includes information about the availability and quality of groundwater and surface water resources.” Those at the hearing unanimously attested to the need for better and more consistent monitoring and modeling. They also noted the federal government would serve best at collecting and disseminating information on successful technology and programs that could be widely applied.

Groundwater is too often used without being understood the GWPC report concluded and “unless we employ more effective ways to manage the way we use ground water, current practices of withdrawing ground water at unsustainable rates will ultimately have significant social, economic, and ecological costs.”

The GWPC report can be accessed at: http://www.gwpc.org/calltoaction/

An AGI summary of the hearing is available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis110/water_resources_hearings.html

The full text of the National Water Research and Development Initiative can be accessed at: http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/File/Commdocs/hearings/2008/Energy/23july/Draft_Legislation.pdf

22. Final Call for AAAS PUST Award Nominations

The deadline for the 2009 AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science & Technology is August 15, 2008. The Award recognizes scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the "popularization of science." Past recipients have included Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Gates and Jane Lubchenco.

For information on how to submit a nomination, please visit: http://www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/awards/public/index.shtml or contact Stacey Pasco at 202-326-6645 or spasco@aaas.org with any questions.

23. Earth Science Week

AGI leads Earth Science Week annually in cooperation with its sponsors and the geosciences community as a service to the public. Each year, community groups, educators, and interested citizens organize celebratory events. Earth Science Week offers the public opportunities to discover the earth sciences and engage in responsible stewardship of the Earth. The theme of this year's Earth Science Week, October 12-18, will be “No Child Left Inside.” Earth Science Week activities and products will encourage students to head outdoors and experience Earth science firsthand.

To learn more about this week, ways to become involved; including newsletters, local events, and classroom activities, please go to the Earth Science Week website at http://www.earthsciweek.org.

24. Geotimes Becomes EARTH Magazine

Geotimes magazine, the flagship publication of the American Geological Institute (AGI), will become EARTH magazine beginning with the September 2008 issue. Geotimes has delivered the earth science news to the professional community for over 52 years. Since 1999, the magazine has been transformed to become the voice of the geosciences for the general public, while still covering the latest developments within the geosciences.

The content and news coverage Geotimes readers have come to enjoy is expanding.  EARTH will continue to explore the science behind the headlines in the areas of earth, energy, the environment, but with 25% more pages of materials, enhanced visual appeal, and an increasingly diverse mix of topics in each issue. 

For more information, visit http://www.earthmagazine.org which will take you to http://www.geotimes.org until September 1, 2008, at which time EARTH makes its official debut.

25. AGI Geopolicy Internship

AGI’s Government Affairs Program (GAP) seeks outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a semester-long internship. Representing the geoscience community in Washington DC, GAP actively works with Congress and federal agencies to foster sound public policy in areas that affect geoscientists, including water, energy, and mineral resources; geologic hazards; environmental protection; and federal funding for geoscience research and education. Applications for the spring semester are due by October 15, 2008. For more information about the internship, including how to apply visit: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html

26. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Service***
Forest Carbon Markets: Potential and Drawbacks, Posted July 3, 2008. This report describes current markets for forest carbon sequestration, the potential for using forest to offset other sources of GHG emissions, and the drawbacks related to forest carbon sequestration efforts.

Speculation and Energy Prices: Legislative Responses, Posted July 8, 2008. This report provides basic information and analysis on the issue of commodity speculation and summarizes the numerous legislative proposals for controlling excessive speculation.

***National Academy of Sciences***
Opening New Frontiers in Space: Choices for the Next New Frontiers Announcement of Opportunity, 2008. The National Research Council (NRC) recommended a series of principal-investigator missions that encourage innovation and accomplish the main scientific objectives presented in a 2002 survey. Two of the five recommended missions have been selected and, as was also recommended in the survey, the NRC was asked in 2007 to provide criteria and guiding principles to NASA for determining the list of candidate missions. This book presents a review of eight missions: the three remaining from the original list of five from the survey plus five missions considered by the survey committee but which were not recommended. Included in the review of each mission is a discussion of relevant science and technology developments since the survey and set of recommended science goals.

Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation: Special Report 290, 2008. The report explores the consequences of climate change for U.S. transportation infrastructure and operations. The report provides an overview of the scientific consensus on the current and future climate changes of particular relevance to U.S. transportation, including the limits of present scientific understanding as to their precise timing, magnitude, and geographic location; identifies potential impacts on U.S. transportation and adaptation options; and offers recommendations for both research and actions that can be taken to prepare for climate change.

Science Professionals: Master's Education for a Competitive World, 2008. What are employer needs for staff trained in the natural sciences at the master's degree level? How do master's level professionals in the natural sciences contribute in the workplace? How do master's programs meet or support educational and career goals? The book examines the answers to these and other questions regarding the role of master's education in the natural sciences. The book also focuses on student characteristics and what can be learned from efforts underway to enhance the master’s in the natural sciences, particularly as a professional degree.

Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft: Elements of a Strategy to Recover Measurement Capabilities Lost in Program Restructuring, 2008. This report addresses a request by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the National Research Council to “prioritize capabilities, especially those related to climate research, that were lost or placed at risk following recent changes to NPOESS and the GOES-R series of polar and geostationary environmental monitoring satellites.”

27. Key Federal Register Notices

DOI—The National Parks Service in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, announces the revised draft of the Federal Land Managers’ Air Quality Related Values Work Group (FLAG) Phase I Report is available and open for comment.  The FLAG effort focuses on the effects of air pollutants that could affect the health and status of resources in the areas managed by the agencies.  Comments and questions should be directed to John Bunyak by September 8, 2008 (john_bunyak@nps.gov or (303)969-2818).  A copy of the draft report can be accessed at: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/air/permits/flag/index.cfm
[Federal Register: Tuesday, July 8 (Vol. 73, No. 131)]

EPA—Announcing an open call for applicants for the 2008 Water Efficiency Leader Awards.  The awards recognize those organizations and individuals who are providing leadership and innovation in water efficient products and practices. For more information and the application form, go to: http://www.epa.gov/water/wel.  Applications must be postmarked by August 29, 2008.  [Federal Register: Wednesday, July 9 (Vol. 73, No. 132)]

DOI—The Mineral Management Service (MMS) is proposing regulations that would establish programs for alternative energy and alternate uses of existing facilities on the outer continental shelf. Submit comments on the proposed regulation by September 8, 2008.  Submit comments on the web (http://www.regulations.gov, Docket ID: MMS-2008-OMM-0012), or by mail (DOI, MMMS, Attn: Regulations and Standards Branch (RSB), 381 Elden Street, MS-4024, Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817). Please reference “Alternative Energy and Alternate Uses of Existing Facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf, 1010-AD30'' in your comments.  For more information contact Maureen Bornholdt (maureen.bornholdt@mms.gove or (703) 787-1300). 
[Federal Register: Wednesday, July 9 (Vol. 73, No. 132)]

EPA—The “2007 Interim Report of the U.S. EPA Global Change Research Program Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Preliminary Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on O3,” prepared by the National Center for Environmental Assessment, is available for public comment until August 25, 2008.  It is available here: http://www.epa.gov/ncea.  For information on commenting, contact the Office of Environmental Information Docket (ORD.Docket@epa.gov or (202) 566-1752). 
[Federal Register: Thursday, July 10 (Vol. 73, No. 133)]

NOAA—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces the availability of competitive grant and cooperative agreement awards for fiscal year 2009.  
For more information on individual program awards, deadlines, and application procedures go to http://www.grants.gov
[Federal Register: Friday, July 11 (Vol. 73, No. 134)]

NOAA –The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is revising its Education Strategic Plan (Plan). The draft Plan establishes goals for NOAA education for the next twenty years as specified by the America COMPETES Act. Comments on this draft Plan must be received by 5 p.m. EDT on August 29, 2008. The draft Plan is available at: http://www.oesd.noaa.gov/draft_ed_plan.html. Comments should be submitted electronically to Education.Plan@noaa.gov. Further information contact: Steve Storck, at 202-482-2226, or Steve.Storck@noaa.gov [Federal Register: Monday, July 14 (Vol. 73, No. 135)]

NIST- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invites and requests nomination of individuals for appointment to its eight existing Federal Advisory Committees including an Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction. Nominations for all committees will be accepted on an ongoing basis and will be considered as and when vacancies arise. Please submit nominations to Mr. Marc Stanley, National Institute of Standards and Technology via e-mail at marc.stanley@nist.gov or call 301-975-2162. Additional information regarding the committee, including its charter may be found at: http://www.nist.gov/tip
[Federal Register: July 15, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 136)]

NOAA- Comment on U.S. Climate Change Science Program Draft Unified Synthesis Product Report: “Global Climate Change in the United States.” NOAA has not formally disseminated this document. It does not represent and should not be construed to represent any Agency policy or determination. Comments must be received by August 14, 2008. The draft Unified Synthesis Product and detailed instructions for making comments are found at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/usp/default.php. Comments must be prepared in accordance with these instructions and submitted to: USP-comments@climatescience.gov. Contact Dr. Anne Waple, at (202) 419-3463. [Federal Register: July 17, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 138)]

EPA- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or Agency) Science Advisory Board (SAB or the Board) Staff Office is soliciting nominations of nationally recognized scientists for consideration for membership on an SAB committee to provide advice on EPA's Report on the Environment (ROE). Nominations should be submitted by August 13, 2008. Contact Dr. Thomas Armitage at (202) 343-9995 or armitage.thomas@epa.gov. General information concerning the EPA SAB can be found on the SAB Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/sab.
[Federal Register: July 23, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 142)]

EPA- Environmental Protection Agency is proposing requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for underground injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) for the purpose of geologic sequestration (GS). If finalized, this proposal would help ensure consistency in permitting underground injection of CO2 at GS operations across the U.S. and provide requirements to prevent endangerment of underground sources of drinking water in anticipation of the eventual use of GS to reduce CO2 emissions. Submit comments by November 24, 2008 identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2008-0390 at www.regulations.gov. A public hearing will be held during the public comment period in September 2008. Contact Lee Whitehurst telephone number: (202) 564-3896, e-mail address: whitehurst.lee@epa.gov.
[Federal Register: July 25, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 144)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency is announcing a 30-day public comment period for the draft document entitled, ``The Development of Land-Use Scenarios Consistent with Climate Change Emissions Storylines'' (EPA/600/R-08/076). The document was prepared by the National Center for Environmental Assessment within EPA's Office of Research and Development. Public comment ends August 25, 2008. More information is available at http://www.epa.gov/ncea, or telephone: 202-566-1752 or e-mail: ORD.Docket@epa.gov.
[Federal Register: July 25, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 144)]

MMS—The Director of the Minerals Management Service is requesting nominations for three representatives to serve on the Department of the Interior’s Royalty Policy Committee. Nominees must have expertise in royalty management issues necessary to represent the public interest. Nominations may be self-nominations, and they are welcome from state and local governments, universities, organizations, and individuals. Nominations are due by August 15, 2008 and should be submitted to Gina Dan, Coordinator, Royalty Policy Committee, Minerals Revenue Management, Minerals Management Service, P.O. Box 25165 Mail Stop 300B2, Denver, Colorado 80225-0165. [Federal Register: July 28, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 145)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking and is soliciting public comment on how the agency should respond to last year’s Supreme Court Case Massachusetts vs. EPA, in which the Court ruled that greenhouse gases (GHG) are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and may be regulated. The notice not only asks for input on petitions the agency has received regarding GHG emissions reductions from ships, aircraft, and non-road vehicles, but discusses issues that may be raised if GHGs are regulated under the Clean Air Act and outlines regulatory and technological proposals for GHG emission reduction. Submit comments by November 28, 2008 online at a-and-rDocket@epa.gov. Comments should be identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0318. Contact Joe Dougherty at Dougherty.Joseph-J@epa.gov for further information.
[Federal Register: July 30, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 147)]

28. 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:

****************************************************************************************
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: USGS, ClimateWire, U.S. Climate Change Science Program, ScienceDaily.com, Greenwire, The Christian Science Monitor, Weather Underground, Inc., National Weather Service, The New York Times, E & E Daily, CongressDaily, Groundwater Protection Council , Science Magazine, and American Association for the Advancement of Science

****************************************************************************************
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 August 4, 2008.