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Monthly Review: July 2009

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.

    *** Announcements ***

    1. Join Us for Geosciences Congressional Visits  in September

    *** Administration News and Updates ***

    1. Obama Nominates Director for USGS
    2. Nominations Update for NASA, DOI, DOE and State

    *** Congressional News and Updates ***

    1. House and Senate Pass Energy Appropriations
    2. Senate Passes USGS and Related Appropriations
    3. Climate Legislation Work Ongoing in Senate
    4. Congress Approves Small Business Research Grants
    5. House Committee Approved Four Energy R&D Bills
    6. Environmental Research Parks Bill Passes House
    7. Senate Introduces Offshore Revenue Sharing
    8. Hydraulic Fracturing Debated In Congress

    *** Supreme Court News and Updates ***

    1. Supreme Court Nominee Faces Environmental Questioning

    *** Federal Agency News and Updates ***

    1. EPA Proposes Mining Clean-up Regulations
    2. Court Clarifies Ruling On Offshore Drilling
    3. Early Career Scientist Funds for 2010
    4. DOE Begins Looking at ARPA-E Proposals
    5. FutureGen to Proceed to Design Stage
    6. NSF Makes Changes to Proposals and Divisions
    7. USGS Releases Water Quality Report
    8. Weather Forecasts of Great Value, NSF Survey Says

    *** Other News and Updates ***

    1. Survey Assesses Scientist and Public Opinions
    2. Common Core State Standards Initiative
    3. STEM Education Policy Model Launched
    4. Geoscientists Join “On-Call” Scientists Organization
    5. New Climate Researchers Invited to Symposium
    6. Great ShakeOut Briefing Held For Congress
    7. Panama Canal Expansion Provides Insight for Geologists
    8. Key Reports and Publications
    9. Key Federal Register Notices
    10. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Join Us for Geosciences Congressional Visits  in September

Join us for the second annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD) on September 15-16, 2009. 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 afternoon 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 or congressional staff. In addition to the workshops and visits, participants will get to meet other geoscientists, and federal science agency representatives. Help us make the second Geo-CVD a success and convey the value of the geosciences to policymakers.

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

Please contact AGI’s Government Affairs staff for more information and to volunteer to participate by sending an email to

2. Obama Nominates Director for USGS

On July 9, 2009 President Obama announced his nomination of Marcia McNutt as the next director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). McNutt would replace acting director Suzette Kimball and become the first female director of the USGS. In addition to managing the agency that employs 8,800 people, McNutt would be the Science Advisor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who applauded Obama’s nomination. Salazar described McNutt as a “world-class scientist” with valuable experience as chief scientist on many oceanographic expeditions and as chair of the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration convened by President Clinton.

After receiving her Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla in 1978, McNutt worked on earthquake prediction at the USGS in Menlo Park, California. After 3 years, she moved east and served on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty as the Griswold Professor of Geophysics and became Director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution. In 1997, she became president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and has been a geophysics professor at Stanford since 1998. She is a past-president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and is a fellow of AGU, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Association of Geodesy. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

3. Nominations Update for NASA, DOI, DOE and State

The Senate confirmed Charles Bolden as the new director of NASA. He has flown on four space missions as an astronaut for NASA since 1980. He holds a bachelor’s in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s in system management from the University of Southern California. His goals for NASA are to build the investment in the International Space Station, develop the new launch systems, enhance the technological leadership in understanding the Earth environment and inspire the next generation of kids.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the nominations of two Department of the Interior (DOI) officials, but they still await full confirmation. The nominations of Bob Abbey to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Wilma Lewis to be the assistant secretary for land and mineral management were initially held up by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) over a disagreement with the Obama Administration on a copper mine. However, he has since dropped his hold on the candidates.

The committee is also planning to vote on the nominees for two senior Department of Energy positions early in August. Warren “Pete” Miller is nominated to be the assistant secretary for nuclear energy, and would also be responsible for the radioactive waste office. Miller is a professor at Texas A&M and a retired Los Alamos Laboratory employee. James Markowsky is nominated to be the assistant secretary for fossil energy, which includes overseeing the carbon capture and storage initiatives. He is active on the National Research Council and chairs a National Academy of Engineering committee on energy and electrical power systems. He holds degrees in mechanical engineering and industrial management.

Kerri-Ann Jones has been nominated as the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Jones, a molecular scientist with her PhD from Yale University and prior experience working for the Clinton Administration, could be key in upcoming negotiations on climate change, polar affairs, and ratification of the Law of the Sea. Most recently Jones was the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation.

4. House and Senate Pass Energy Appropriations

The House and the Senate completed their separate appropriations bills for the Department of Energy and related activities in July. Significant differences remain between the two bills and Congress will attempt to conference on the bills in the fall to resolve their differences.

The House bill (H.R. 3183) provides $26,879 million for the Department of Energy (DOE), an increase of $86 million over fiscal year 2009 (FY09), but $1,528 million less than the President’s request. The Senate bill (S.1436) provides $27,398 million for the Department of Energy about $1,000 million less than the President’s request and $500 million more than the House mark.

Both chambers refused to provide the $115 million requested for the energy education and workforce program suggested by the Administration. The program, REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge (RE-ENERGYSE), would support undergraduate and graduate energy curriculum and research opportunities to prepare more than 8,000 scientists and engineers to enter clean energy fields by 2015.

The committee reports indicated this new initiative is redundant with existing programs within DOE, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor. Interestingly for the geoscience community to note, the House report mentions the Department of Education’s request for $31 million for the “graduate assistance in areas of national need” (GAANN). Unfortunately this program removed geological science as an area of national need in 2006, even though the Department of Labor noted the significant need for a future geoscience workforce and excludes geosciences, a fundamental component of energy education, in the current GAANN program.

The House report (111-203) also asks the Department of Energy to develop a five year budget plan for all projects that exceed $100 million and to submit such a plan to Congress by March 1, 2010. Most large federal programs provide five-year budget plans and DOE remains an anomaly among major federal science agencies without a long term strategic plan.

The House bill and report is available from Thomas at:
The Senate bill and report are available from Thomas at:

5. Senate Passes USGS and Related Appropriations

The Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies completed their work on the House appropriations bill (H.R. 2996) and Senate report (111-38) on June 25, 2009. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill and will probably wait until the fall to consider the legislation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recommends $1,104 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, about $6 million more than the President’s request and $2 million less than the House mark. The increases compared to the President’s request would be primarily divided up between the Geologic, Water and Biological Resources programs. Increases would be devoted to regional water projects plus general genetics and genomic research, tropical ecosystems and watershed health research and the National Biological Information Infrastructure.

The bill summary and committee reports are available from Thomas at:

6. Climate Legislation Work Ongoing in Senate

Following the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the House last month, the Senate started work on its own climate legislation. The Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee is taking the lead in drafting the legislation with five other committees weighing in. EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has called several hearings in her committee during the month of July to consider all aspects of opportunities and challenges with climate change legislation. Boxer has said they will use the Waxman-Markey bill as a starting point to develop legislation, but the Senate will come up with their own version. She plans to release a draft bill on September 8 when the Senate returns from its August recess and to markup the bill throughout the month. EPW intends to meet a September 28 deadline set by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for the bill to be reported out of the six committees.

More information about the progress of Senate debate and legislation on climate change is available from the committee website.

AGI summaries of hearings on climate change in the House and the Senate are available here.

7. Congress Approves Small Business Research Grants

The House and Senate have approved reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program through 2017 (H.R. 2965). The program provides federal grants for small businesses to allow small, high-technology, innovative businesses to compete with and complement federal research and development efforts.

In the past the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and others contributed 2.5 percent of their budgets to SBIR. The Senate added an amendment from Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that will incrementally increase the percentage federal agencies are contributing to 3.5 percent by 2020. Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) strongly opposed such an increase, as it will take away from funding allotted to basic scientific research at federal agencies. He prefers overall increases for NSF, DOE, and others that would in turn increase funds for SBIR. After the Senate vote on July 13, 2009, the bill returns to a conference committee who will reconcile the two versions of the bill before sending it to President Obama.

Read more about the SBIR program here.

8. House Committee Approved Four Energy R&D Bills

On July 29, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee approved four bills that would establish energy research and development (R&D) programs within the Department of Energy (DOE). The first bill (H.R. 3246) would provide funding for R&D of advanced vehicles, such as electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, to reduce petroleum fuel use and gasoline emissions. The second bill (H.R. 3165) would fund wind energy R&D in order to create lighter, larger and cheaper wind turbine blades and advanced sensors for better performance and reliability. Research of offshore wind energy applications and a collaborative wind energy demonstration program between DOE and industry would also be authorized. The third bill (H.R. 3029) would establish a research, development, and technology demonstration program for natural gas turbines with the goal of achieving combined cycle efficiency of 65 percent. The last bill (H.R. 3247) would establish a social and behavioral science research program in DOE to better understand the societal factors that influence energy consumption.

9. Environmental Research Parks Bill Passes House

A bill to authorize designation of the National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) by the Secretary of Energy (H.R. 2729), introduced by Representative Ben Lujan (D-NM) in June, passed the House with bipartisan support on July 29. There are currently seven NERPs located throughout the U.S. that do research related to energy and the environment in unique outdoor laboratory settings on protected lands of the Department of Energy. These research parks possess long-term data sets on amphibian populations, bird populations, and soil moisture and plant water stress that will be particularly valuable as climate change is studied for years to come. This bill would designate $30 million between 2010 and 2014 to the Secretary of Energy for these parks to continue their work and to engage in more education and outreach to the public.

10. Senate Introduces Offshore Revenue Sharing

The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling debate continues as strong advocates of increased offshore drilling develop a coastal states revenue sharing bill. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced the Domestic Energy Security Act of 2009 (S. 1517), which would direct 37.5 percent of revenue generated by offshore oil and gas development to those coastal states and 12.5 percent to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill would provide incentives for these states to contribute to the “energy bridge” between foreign oil and new energy sources. Landrieu’s argument is that all revenues currently go to the federal treasury, bypassing the states which deal with the risks and responsibilities of OCS development.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) argued against revenue sharing, pointing out that the OCS is a federal resource. Murkowski’s staff indicated she will try and add this bill as an amendment to the climate and energy legislation moving through the Senate. If energy and climate change are combined into one comprehensive bill this amendment could draw some offshore drilling supporters, but is likely insufficient to sway staunch opponents to the climate change bill. Murkowski has urged that energy be considered separately from climate legislation, despite the two being merged in the House bill.

The debate resumed this year after last summer’s high gas prices and lapse in the OCS drilling ban. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is still working to develop his OCS policies for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska after Congress let the 18 year moratoria expire. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has already tried to add language to widen the OCS leasing areas in the Senate energy bill, causing tension with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). S. 1517 includes similar widening language along with the revenue sharing plan.

11. Hydraulic Fracturing Debated In Congress

Congress is debating whether hydraulic fracturing should be monitored under the Safe Water Drinking Act. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, hydraulic fracturing was removed from the oversight of the Safe Water Drinking Act. Bills in the House (H.R. 2766) and the Senate (S. 1215) would repeal this exemption. According to an HIS Global Insight study (PDF) released by the American Petroleum Institute (API), between $84 and $374 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) losses would occur by 2014 if there was increased regulation or total elimination of hydraulic fracturing. The study also found that an increase in unemployment and foreign imports would follow.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used by the industry for over 50 years to aid in drilling for difficult to recover gas reserves. Some say the chemicals mixed with the sand and water to break up the rocks are harmful to groundwater. After Congress was assured the process was safe, it was removed from the Drinking Water Act. Since then several contaminated sites have been found near gas wells, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now has limited authority to investigate. Congress wants to reinstate EPA authority and held hearings to assess the situation, while industry references studies showing that state oversight is sufficient and federal regulations will only hamper exploration. 

12. Supreme Court Nominee Faces Environmental Questioning

Supreme Court Justice Nominee Sonia Sotomayor was questioned on environmental issues on several occasions during her confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary committee in July. When questioned about Kelo v. City of New London, a case which affirmed the right of local and state governments to take private property for economic development purposes, she indicated that she would defer to the court ruling in the future because it set precedent on the issue. She was also asked about the Supreme Court reversal of her 2007 decision in Riverkeeper v. EPA. The case focused on whether the Clean Water Act precluded EPA from using cost-benefit analysis to determine the best technology available to protect fish from power plant water intakes. Sotomayor again responded that she would uphold the precedent set by the Supreme Court.

She said she could not speak to why a case between electric utilities and environmentalists regarding greenhouse gas emissions has remained on the Second Circuit Court docket since 2004 because the case is still pending, but indicated it is partially due to waiting for the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. On environmental issues, her record does not show her consistently siding with either business or environmental groups. Sotomayor repeatedly told the committee that she would uphold precedent established by the court and would not try to change the laws that Congress had enacted.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination and the full Senate will debate and vote on her confirmation in the first week of August before the chamber leaves for its August recess.

13. EPA Proposes Mining Clean-up Regulations

EPA has announced that it will write regulations on financial responsibility requirements for the hardrock mining industry. Hardrock mining contributes to about a quarter of the nation’s toxic releases and mining companies to date have been able to leave behind an environmental mess that American taxpayers are forced to pay for, according to the EPA. The agency was supposed to draft rules after the Superfund program began in 1983, but has cited competing priorities and insufficient funds until a recent court order instructed them to do so.

EPA will first determine what hardrock mining facilities will be required to provide financial assurances that they can pay for clean-up necessary from their operations under the Superfund law. These will likely include facilities that extract metals and minerals and processing plants. They plan to have their proposed rule ready by spring 2011. They have yet to say what the financial assurances may be, but they could include trust funds, surety bonds, insurance, or letters of credit naming the government as the beneficiary. Once EPA proposes its rule for the hardrock mining industry, it will look at other industries that warrant financial assurances rules, including wood-treatment facilities, hazardous waste generators, and metal finishers.

EPA’s announcement comes at the same time that Congress is discussing hardrock mining reform to update the 1872 mining law. The House and Senate versions of the bill set aside certain public lands vulnerable to environmental degradation from hardrock mining. They also propose royalties to be imposed on mining operations that could in part pay for an abandoned mine trust fund to rehabilitate the land and improve public safety. 

14. Court Clarifies Ruling On Offshore Drilling

On July 29, 2009 the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a press statement indicating it will proceed with the offshore oil lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico on August 19. This decision comes one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit clarified that its prior ruling to vacate the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf oil and natural gas leasing program applies only to the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas around Alaska. The court vacated this part of the program because the Bush Administration did not conduct sufficient scientific and environmental analysis before scheduling the leasing.

Leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas will proceed according to the five year leasing plan, while the DOI will work to fix the problems with the offshore leasing around Alaska. The DOI will provide periodic updates on their progress to ensure sufficient scientific and environmental analysis for potential offshore leasing in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas.

15. Early Career Scientist Funds for 2010

The Obama Administration is using part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support scientific researchers and build the nation’s scientific workforce. On July 17, 2009 Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that up to $85 million from the ARRA will be allocated to fund early career scientists’ research in 2010. Five year grants will be awarded to at least 50 researchers from U.S. academic institutions and Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories. Universities will get $150,000 per year to fund summer salary and research expenses and national laboratories will receive $500,000 per year for salary and research expenses.

Qualified applicants must have received their Ph.D. within the last 10 years and be a tenure-track assistant professor or a fulltime employee at a DOE national laboratory. To apply, researchers must submit a letter of intent by August 1, 2009, and a proposal of research is due on September 1, 2009. Researchers should apply for funding of projects that are within the programmatic priorities of one of the six Office of Science program offices.

More information is available at:

16. DOE Begins Looking at ARPA-E Proposals

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) of the Department of Energy (DOE) has completed the submission stage of its first Funding Opportunity Announcement. ARPA-E will focus on high risk, high pay-off technologies that lead to energy transformations. Its aims to maintain U.S. economic security by identifying technologies with the potential to reduce energy imports from foreign sources, reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency while keeping the U.S. as the technological leader in the world.

ARPA-E has received about 3,500 concept papers for the $150 million available from the stimulus package passed earlier this year. The number of concepts exceeded industry expectations and demonstrates the large capacity for energy innovation in the nation. ARPA-E will notify those who submitted concept papers by July 28, 2009 if they think the concepts are feasible and the applicant should proceed. Full proposals are due by August 28, 2009. ARPA-E is planning to offer further solicitations in the future.

17. FutureGen to Proceed to Design Stage

On July 14, 2009 the Department of Energy (DOE) formally announced its intentions to proceed with planning for the FutureGen Project in Mattoon, IL. The project is a non-profit industrial consortium led by the coal-fired electric power industry and the coal production industry to plan, design, construct and operate a coal gasification power plant integrated with carbon capture and sequestration. The plant will be capable of capturing 90 percent of the carbon dioxide released, but may only operate at 60 percent capacity for the first few years. The project will also limit emissions of other pollutants and include an option for a research platform to support development of technologies for future power plants that capture and sequester carbon dioxide.

In June 2008, President Bush discontinued support for the project. Since then DOE has reassessed that decision and reached an agreement to complete a preliminary design, a revised cost estimate and a funding plan. This announcement does not commit DOE to any actual construction yet. If the plans are approved, DOE will contribute $1 billion from stimulus funds with an additional $1.4 billion coming from the FutureGen consortium, revenues from electricity sales, and other sources yet to be identified.

18. NSF Makes Changes to Proposals and Divisions

Proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) must be submitted using the NSF FastLane system at Please visit the web site for more information.

Proposals to support a post-doctoral researcher must include a separate mentoring plan in a supplemental section. Any proposal that does not include this section will be returned without review.  Please review the instructions about this small change.

NSF provides information about funding opportunities at and proposers are encouraged to check this site often for updates and information.

The Atmospheric Science division (ATM) within the Geosciences Directorate will become the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) as of October 1, 2009. Look for AGS rather than ATM after that date, and please consider the additional range of science included in the new division name.

Some upcoming NSF grant proposals that are outside of the Geosciences Directorate, but may be of interest to geoscientists include: Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Organization of Projects on Environmental Research in the Arctic (OPERA) and Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering  (REESE).

19. USGS Releases Water Quality Report

On July 16, 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a water quality report on the High Plains aquifer, which supplies eight states with water for drinking, irrigation and livestock watering. The water quality study concluded that the aquifer is generally acceptable for these uses, but warned that the amount of pollutants is increasing over time. The study measured samples from public-supply wells, irrigation wells, and shallow monitoring wells taken between 1999 and 2004.

As the nation’s most heavily used groundwater resource, an increase in contaminates casts doubt on the long-term sustainability of the aquifer. The slow movement of water compounded with slow rates of contaminant degradation would make the contaminants hard to remove. However, currently only 6 percent of the wells had concentrations of the fertilizer derived contaminant nitrate over the federal standard while more than 85 percent of the 370 drinking wells measured were within federal drinking-water standards. 

20. Weather Forecasts of Great Value, NSF Survey Says

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently funded a National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) survey to determine the value of weather forecasts to Americans. The survey showed that Americans place an average value of 10.5 cents on each forecast. This results in the annual value of weather forecasts totaling $31.5 billion, as compared to the $5.1 billion it costs the government and private companies to provide forecasts.

Of the survey respondents, 87 percent said they obtained a weather forecast on average at least once a day. The most popular times to access forecasts were in the early morning, early evening, and late evening. About 33 percent indicated they obtained their forecasts from local television stations, with cable television and radio less popular, and web sites and newspapers least common. NCAR said it should conduct these types of surveys every few years to see how changes in technology may influence where people turn to for their forecasts so they can continue to meet the public’s needs.

The NSF press release is available here.

21. Survey Assesses Scientist and Public Opinions

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) evaluated the public view of science and compared it to the viewpoint of scientists. The survey asked 4,500 people, of which 2,500 were members of AAAS, about science and the global standing of U.S. science research. The study found that while the public has a good opinion of scientists, they do not believe that American scientists lead the world in scientific research. Only 17 percent of the public think that U.S. science is the best in the world, while 49 percent of scientists hold this belief. The number of people who view scientific advances as the most important achievements of the U.S. has declined in the last 10 years from 47 to 27 percent.

The survey also asked scientists about the scientific knowledge of the public. While two thirds of the public have a high opinion of scientists, 85 percent of scientists think that public ignorance of science is a problem. The study evaluated the scientific knowledge of the public and compared it to the scientists’ knowledge. Questions about evolution found that 32 percent of the public believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, as opposed to 87 percent of scientists. A similar disparity is found for global warming, with 49 percent of the public and 84 percent of scientists believing that humans are the cause. However, there is some agreement between scientists and the public when it comes to funding of science research. Both groups say that government investment is essential for scientific progress. Majorities of each group also agree that advances in medicine and life science are the most important advances in science.

Another recent survey by two scientists at the University of Illinois in Chicago polled 3,146 scientists on their opinion of climate change. Dr. Peter Doran and former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman presented their findings in the American Geophysical Union’s publication Eos in January. The results showed that 90 percent of the polled scientists believe that mean global temperature has risen since 1800, and 82 percent agree that human activity is a significant contributing factor. Of the climate specialists polled, 97 percent agreed that humans have contributed to the mean global temperature rise. The study concluded that there is an overall consensus among scientists that humans are causing climate change.

The full survey report by the Pew Research Center can be found here.
More information on the Doran and Zimmerman survey can be found at CNN.

22. Common Core State Standards Initiative

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recently released the names of 49 states and territories that have joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The initiative is committed to developing common state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and include rigorous content and skills to be aligned with college and work expectations. This work builds on recent efforts by organizations and states to develop standards that will ensure American students are college and career ready when they graduate from high school. The goal is to have a set of standards that states can voluntarily adopt. States can adopt additional standards, but at least 85 percent of their English-language arts and mathematics must be represented by the common core.

More information can be found at

23. STEM Education Policy Model Launched

A new model that examines the U.S. educational system in order to strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education was released by Raytheon and the Business-Higher Education Forum on July 8, 2009. The first of its kind model uses more than 200 variables in complex algorithms to determine which policy and educational programmatic interventions will produce the most positive environment for STEM students, ultimately increasing the amount of STEM college graduates and the STEM workforce. The release of the model allows policy makers, researchers, and educators to determine the best policy scenarios for STEM education.

The U.S. STEM Education Model can be found here.

24. Geoscientists Join “On-Call” Scientists Organization

Geoscientists have joined the ranks of “On-call” Scientists, a volunteer organization started by the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program in October 2008. “On-call” Scientists connects scientists with human rights organizations around the world who are in need of expert scientific advice. AAAS is pleased with the initial response to the program as over 250 highly qualified scientists have already signed up and there are many requests for their expertise. Human rights organizations have been calling for a full range of scientists, including geoscientists. A recent request solicited petroleum engineers and geologists with gold and diamond extraction experience to help with human rights work in west and central Africa.

25. New Climate Researchers Invited to Symposium

The Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS, pronounced “discourse”), connects natural and social scientists engaged in research related to climate change, impacts and solutions. The goal is to broaden perspectives and establish a collegial peer network to address climate challenges at the interface of science and society. Climate researchers who completed their PhD dissertations between April 1, 2007 and July 31, 2009 are encouraged to register their dissertations for possible selection to the next week-long symposium in Tonto National Forest, Arizona from March 13-20, 2010.

The program is supported by the National Science Foundation and scientific societies (including AGI Member Societies, AGU and ASLO).

26. Great ShakeOut Briefing Held For Congress

On July 29, 2009 Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey, along with Gary Sturdivan of the East Valley Water District and Stephen Sellers of the California Emergency Management Agency, spoke on Capitol Hill about “Disaster Preparedness: Lessons from the Great Southern California Shakeout”. Over 5 million people participated in the ShakeOut last November, the largest disaster preparedness drill in U.S. history. The congressional briefing was sponsored by the Geological Society of America (GSA), American Geophysical Union (AGU), Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), and Seismological Society of America (SSA) in cooperation with the Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance and the Congressional Hazards Caucus.

27. Panama Canal Expansion Provides Insight for Geologists

Teams of scientists gathered for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Panama Geology Project are taking advantage of the Panamanian government’s economic decision to expand the Panama Canal. The massive five-year project to widen the canal to accommodate the larger, modern cargo ships has provided a rare opportunity to view the geology of the isthmus without the usual thick vegetation cover. The engineering project is moving along at a feverish pace, and scientists are racing to capitalize on this new field opportunity before the construction is complete. Geoscientists are hoping to use the newly exposed rock structures to understand the timing of formation, complex tectonics, and resource deposits in this unique region.

More about the Smithsonian Research Institute is available here:

28. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Service***
Estimates of Carbon Mitigation Potential from Agricultural and Forestry Activities
Released June 19, 2009. This report looks at two studies that were conducted in 2004 and 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that estimated the forestry and agriculture sectors could sequester twice as much carbon dioxide as they were. Recent economic and policy changes suggest these studies are outdated, so the EPA is recalculating with new models and simulations.

Climate Change: The Role of the U.S. Agriculture Sector
Released June 19, 2009. This report examines methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases produced by livestock, land management and fertilizer use. The report also estimates greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, and discusses how agriculture sequestration can generate carbon offsets or credits to be sold to carbon producing facilities regulated by a cap-and-trade program.

***Government Accountability Office***
Clean Water Infrastructure: Design Issues and Funding Options for a Clean Water Trust Fund
Released July 15, 2009. The results from a GAO questionnaire identified the three most important issues that stakeholders thought need to be addressed in a clean water trust fund to protect the aging wastewater infrastructure: how a trust fund should be administered and used, what type of financial assistance should be provided, and what activities should be eligible to receive funding from a trust fund.

Hardrock Mining: Information on State Royalties and the Number of Abandoned Mine Sites and Hazards
Released July 14, 2009. The royalties that twelve western states assess from mines on Bureau of Land Management land were compared in this report, and the estimated amount of abandoned hardrock mines in these states and South Dakota was determined to be 161,000, with 33,000 of them having degraded the environment.

Energy and Water: Preliminary Observations on the Links between Water and Biofuels and Electricity Production
Released July 9, 2009. Three ongoing studies focus on the water-energy nexus for biofuels, thermoelectric power plants, and oil shale. While the report on oil shale is in its preliminary stages, and the report on biofuels shows that better technology is needed to reduce water use, the report on thermoelectric power plants shows promise in the use of alternative cooling techniques to drastically reduce water consumption.

Clean Air Act: Preliminary Observations on the Effectiveness and Costs of Mercury Control Technologies at Coal-Fired Power Plants
Released July 9, 2009. The reduction in mercury released by coal-fired power plants using the Department of Energy’s sorbent mercury control technology is 80 to 90 percent, and costs for the sorbent technology are still relatively low compared to other air pollution control devices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still considering what the regulated standard for mercury emissions should be.

Climate Change Trade Measures: Considerations for U.S. Policy Makers
Released July 8, 2009. This report examines the policies of the current climate change bills regarding the effect of a tax or cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Benefits include a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but such pricing could also harm U.S. firms' competitiveness or increase emissions abroad if domestic production costs are too high. This has caused some bills to include emission allowances or a border tax on imports.

Climate Change Trade Measures: Estimating Industry Effects
Released July 8, 2009. This report discusses the complexity of estimating the effects that the proposed climate change bills and the emissions tax or cap would have on industry. One difficulty is the competitiveness effect, which can depend on the type of energy used and the extent to which foreign competitors' greenhouse gas emissions are regulated. This is exemplified though a discussion of the primary metals sub-industries.

***National Academy of Sciences***
America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation: Summary Edition
Released July 28, 2009. This book analyzes the impacts and costs a wide range of energy options and creates timelines to help decide which technology to develop for the future. It considers ways to increase energy efficiency, alternative fuels, as well as developments in current energy industries.

Ethics Education and Scientific and Engineering Research: What's Been Learned? What Should Be Done? Summary of a Workshop
Released July 24, 2009. This book summarizes an August 2008 workshop on the social environment of science and engineering education, the need for ethics education for science and engineering graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, models for effective programs, and assessment of approaches to ethics education.

Applications of Social Network Analysis for Building Community Disaster Resilience: Workshop Summary
Released July 22, 2009. This book summarizes a workshop on ways to use and improve Social Network Analysis (SNA) to build community disaster resilience. SNA identifies relationships and attributes of key people and groups that comprise networks within communities.

Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
Released July 22, 2009. This book examines the consequences of technological advances on the integrity, accessibility, and stewardship of research, and recommends a new approach to the design and the management of research projects. The book is an essential guide to the principles affecting research data in the digital age.

Global Environmental Health: Research Gaps and Barriers for Providing Sustainable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services: Workshop Summary
Released July 20, 2009. This book summarizes an October 2007 workshop on the interdependence of environmental health and human health through water sanitation and hygiene. Sustainable solutions are sought by considering how planning, management, and interdisciplinary approaches can be integrated.

Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico
Released July 16, 2009. This book contains recommendations for the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture on the establishment of a joint Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative. The Initiative would learn more about the effectiveness of actions to reduce nutrient pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus that cause algae blooms and ocean hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientific Value of Arctic Sea Ice Imagery Derived Products
Released July 15, 2009. In this book, the National Research Council reviews the small scale (1 meter resolution) unclassified images derived from classified images of 6 Arctic sea ice locations and considers their potential uses for scientific research.

America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs
Released July 7, 2009. This book is meant to advise the nation on key goals and critical issues in 21st century U.S. civil space policy as other nations and the private sector develop and expand scientific and engineering knowledge of space technology.

29. Key Federal Register Notices

DOE--The Department of Energy (DOE) has completed an environmental assessment for the disposal of its uranium inventory. Two potential methods of disposition are available: enrichment and subsequent storage or sale of the product, and direct sale to appropriately licensed entities. Based on the analysis in the environmental assessment, DOE has determined that disposal of this excess uranium inventory using one or a combination of these two methods will not significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Therefore, the preparation of an environmental impact statement is not required. Single copies of the impact assessments may be obtained from Mr. Ronald Hagen at DOE by phone: (202) 586-1381, fax: (202) 287-3701, or email:
[Wednesday, July 1 (Vol. 74, No. 125)]

DOE--The Department of Energy (DOE) is planning for the long-term management and storage of mercury as required by the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008. With the assistance of the Environmental Protection Agency, DOE intends to issue an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate alternatives in order to have the requisite capability operational by January 1, 2013. Comment will be accepted until August 24, 2009. Written comments may be submitted to Mr. David Levenstein, EIS Document Manager, by fax: (877) 274-5462, or through: Public meetings will be held thoughout August, see website for details.
[Thursday, July 2 (Vol. 74, No. 126)]

NSF--The National Science Foundation (NSF) is revising its regulations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by adopting the revisions as proposed on April 13, 2009.  The rule addresses the procedures to be followed when submitting or responding to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. The final rule will be effective August 3, 2009. For more information, contact Leslie A. Jensen by phone (703-292-8060) or email (
[Thursday, July 2 (Vol. 74, No. 126)]

EPA--On May 26, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the rule, “Regulation of Fuels and Fuel Additives: Changes to Renewable Fuel Standard Program.” The public comment period has been extended until September 25, 2009. Please submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0161, online at, or by email:
[Tuesday, July 7 (Vol. 74, No. 128)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is granting California’s request for a waiver of the Clean Air Act preemption to enforce its greenhouse gas emission standards for model year 2009 and later new motor vehicles. This decision withdraws and replaces EPA's prior denial of the December 21, 2005 waiver request published in the Federal Register on March 6, 2008. Petitions for review must be filed by September 8, 2009. EPA has established a docket for this action under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2006-0173. All documents and public comments in the docket are listed on the website. Specific questions may be addressed to David Dickinson at the EPA by phone: (202) 343-9256 or email:
[Wednesday, July 8 (Vol. 74, No. 129)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces the formation of the Climate Ready Water Utilities Working Group (CRWUWG) of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC), and solicits all interested persons or organizations to nominate qualified individuals to serve on the working group. The group will evaluate the concept of “Climate Ready Water Utilities” and provide recommendations to the full NDWAC on the development of an effective program for drinking water and wastewater utilities. Address all nominations by August 7, 2009 to Lauren Wisniewski, National Drinking Water Advisory Council Climate Ready Water Utilities Working Group by email (, or phone (202-564-2918).
[Wednesday, July 8 (Vol. 74, No. 129)]

USGS--The Department of the Interior is seeking nominations to serve on the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC). The NGAC provides advice and recommendations to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), reviews and comments upon geospatial policy and management issues, and provides a forum to represent non-Federal stakeholders in the geospatial community. Nominations to participate on this Committee must be received by August 21, 2009. Submite via email (, or mail to: John Mahoney, USGS, U.S. Department of the Interior, 909 First Avenue, Suite 800, Seattle, WA 98104. Additional information is available on the NGAC Web page at
[Monday, July 13 (Vol. 74, No. 132)]

USDA--The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) requests comments on additional categorical exclusion actions that promote restoration and conservation activities related to natural or human induced damage, or alteration of floodplain easements and watershed areas. The agency has determined that these actions do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and, thus, should not require preparing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The rule is effective July 13, 2009, and comments are accepted by September 11, 2009. Identify comments by Docket Number NRCS-0578-AA55, and submit to:, email:, or fax: (202) 720-2646.
[Monday, July 13 (Vol. 74, No. 132)]

USGS--The Department of the Interior (DOI) proposes creating a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) “Earthquake Hazards Program Earthquake Information” system of records. The system includes collecting individuals’ contact information for real-time dissemination of requested earthquake-related information and creating web-accessible maps of earthquake-shaking by zip code. Please submit written comments before August 24, 2009 to the USGS Privacy Act Officer, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS807, Reston, Virginia 20192, or by email to Before including personal contact information in your comment, note that all submitted information may be made publicly available. You can request your personal information be withheld, but no guarantee can be made.
[Tuesday, July 14 (Vol. 74, No. 133)]

NOAA--The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announces competitive grant and cooperative agreement award offerings for fiscal year 2010. For more information on the available grants and proposal requirements and deadlines in each program, please visit
[Thursday, July 16 (Vol. 74, No. 135)]

NOAA--The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is soliciting nominations for members of the NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB advises the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the NOAA Administrator on strategies for research, education, and application of science to resource management and environmental assessment and prediction. The SAB consists of 15 members reflecting the full breadth of NOAA's areas of responsibility and assists NOAA in maintaining a complete and accurate understanding of scientific issues critical to the agency's missions. Nominations must be submitted electronically to by September 14, 2009. For more information, visit the NOAA SAB website at
[Thursday, July 16 (Vol. 74, No. 135)]

MMS--On August 19, 2009, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) will open and publicly announce bids received for sites located in the Gulf of Mexico. Information and maps on bidding can be found in the Final NOS 210 Package at, or from MMS Gulf of Mexico Region Public Information Unit, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394, or (800) 200-GULF.
[Friday, July 17 (Vol. 74, No. 136)]

MMS--A final rule on the framework for renewable energy production on the outer continental shelf (OCS), published in the Federal Register on April 29, 2009, established a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for safe, and environmentally responsible renewable energy activities. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is now accepting applications for renewable energy leases and grants on the OCS. Please file applications with the specific MMS office for the offshore site. See the full federal register notice for office listing and instructions. For more information, contact Maureen A. Bornholdt at MMS by phone: 703-787-1300.
[Monday, July 20 (Vol. 74, No. 137)]

EPA--Assuring the quality of environmental measurements is essential to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) environmental programs. The EPA is introducing principles that reflect flexible approaches for the validation of measurements and sets the stage for future progress in improving data quality, and the advancement of environmental measurement. This notice is an update on EPA's progress to Flexible Measurement--The Evolution of the Performance Approach. For more specific information, contact Lara Autry by phone: 919-541-5544; or email:
[Wednesday, July 22 (Vol. 74, No. 139)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is identifying classes of facilities within the hardrock mining industry to first develop financial responsibility requirements for environmental cleanup under the amended Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980. This notice and supporting documentation are available at Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-SFUND-2009-0265 on the website.
[Tuesday, July 28 (Vol. 74, No. 143)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated new reference methods for measuring concentrations of oxides of nitrogen, ozone, and sulfur dioxide in the ambient air. For more information, please contact Surender Kaushik of the EPA by  phone: (919) 541-5691, or email:
[Friday, July 31 (Vol. 74, No. 146)]

MMS--The Minerals Management Service proposes a rule to establish regulations for sustained casing pressure in oil and gas wells on the outer continental shelf. The proposed rule would establish criteria for monitoring and testing of wells with sustained casing pressure, and would incorporate the American Petroleum Institute's Recommended Practice for managing annular casing pressure. New regulations are needed since current regulations are not sufficient for sustained casing pressure. This rule would promote human safety and environmental protection, and best industry practices for wells. Submit comments on this proposed rule by September 29, 2009 online at or mail to MMS; Attention: Regulations and Standards Branch; 381 Elden Street, MS-4024, Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Reference Annular Casing Pressure Management for Offshore Wells, 1010-AD47 and include your name and return address.
[Friday, July 31 (Vol. 74, No. 146)]

30. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

·  Hearings on Natural Hazards (7-29-09)
·  Natural Hazard Policy (7-29-09)
·  Hearings on Education, R&D, and Workforce Policy (7-29-09)
·  Water and Ocean Policy (7-28-09)
·  Energy Policy (7-28-09)
·  Hearings on Mining, Mapping, Soils and Other Issues (7-28-09)
·  Hearings on Earth Observations (7-28-09)
·  Hearings on Energy Policy (7-24-09)
·  Climate Change Policy (7-24-09)
·  Hearings on Earth Observations (7-24-09)
·  Hearings on Water and Oceans Policy (7-21-09)
·  Hearings on Federal Agencies (7-10-09)
·  Information on Federal Geoscience Agencies (7-10-09)
·  Hearings on Climate Change (7-10-09)

Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Stephanie Praus, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Rachel Potter, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

Sources: Greenwire, Associated Press, Environment and Energy Daily, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, American Institute of Physics, Government Accountability Office, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House, Politico, BHEF, and Department of the Interior.

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.  Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at <> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Posted July 2, 2009.


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