AGI Home | About AGIContact UsSearch 

Monthly Review: July 2010


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

***Announcements***

  1. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day in September

***Administration News and Updates***

  1. President Obama Releases National Space Policy
  2. President Obama Establishes National Ocean Policy
  3. Jacob Lew Nominated for Director of OMB
  4. Oil Spill Update

***Congressional News and Updates***

  1. Update on Appropriations
  2. Senate Considers America COMPETES Re-authorization
  3. House Science Committee Marks Up Two Oil Spill Bills
  4. House Natural Resources Committee Passes Offshore Drilling Bill
  5. Some Congressional Members Oppose Yucca Mountain Termination
  6. Murkowski Introduces Hydropower Bills in Senate
  7. Carbon Capture and Sequestration Bill Introduced
  8. Representatives Call for Lubchenco’s Resignation Following Misuse of NOAA Funds
  9. Congressional Budget Office Estimates Cost of Climate Bill
  10. Senate Unable to Progress on Energy or Climate Legislation

***Federal Agency News and Updates***

  1. DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program Announces Awards
  2. USGS Announces New Assessment Method for Carbon Sequestration
  3. ACWI Holds Conference, Discusses New Water Programs
  4. NAS Requests Comments on Future Earth Science Research
  5. Disasters Roundtable Discusses Use of Satellites for Disaster Response
  6. Report Estimates Much Higher U.S. Plutonium Waste
  7. USGS EDMAP Survey Results

***Other News and Updates***

  1. Chinese Court Sentences American Geologist
  2. Dutch Environmental Agency Issues Report About IPCC Errors
  3. British Report Clears Climate Scientists in Email Hacking Case
  4. Ad Campaign to Portray Climate Scientists in a New Way
  5. BP Research Grants and Restrictions
  6. Elementary and Secondary School Statistics Released
  7. Policy Associate Position at AGI
  8. Key Reports and Publications
  9. Key Federal Register Notices
  10. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day in September

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

Back to top

 2. President Obama Releases National Space Policy

On June 28, President Obama released a new national space policy. The report emphasizes the United States’ continued commitment to the collaborative, responsible, and constructive use of space, as well as the continued development of space systems to benefit national and homeland security. The report details a ‘bold new approach to space exploration,’ calling for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system. According to the report, in coming years the U.S. will “accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere in order to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters.”

Back to top

 3. President Obama Establishes National Ocean Policy

On July 19, President Obama issued a Presidential Order to enact the Ocean Policy Task Force’s final recommendations, which involve establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes (National Policy) and creating a National Ocean Council (NOC). The NOC, which will coordinate across the federal government to implement the National Policy, has received support from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Navy.

The final recommendations prioritize actions for the NOC to pursue, including ecosystem-based management, regional ecosystem protection and restoration, and strengthened and integrated observing systems. The National Policy prioritizes coastal and marine spatial planning and calls for a flexible framework to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, the coasts and the Great Lakes.

The full text of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes is available at www.whitehouse/oceans.gov.

Back to top

 4. Jacob Lew Nominated for Director of OMB

President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jacob Lew to serve as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Lew, who would replace Peter Orszag, served as OMB Director under President Clinton. He is credited with balancing the federal budget in the 1990’s and creating a budget surplus. The nomination comes at a time when the federal deficit is $1.3 trillion. Lew will have to be confirmed by the Senate, although he is not expected to face much opposition.

Back to top

 5. Oil Spill Update

BP finally stopped the oil from leaking at the Macondo exploratory well on July 15 by capping the broken pipe with a containment device. Then the hole was plugged from the top with mud and finally cemented in by August 8. BP is continuing efforts to complete a relief well that will intersect the exploratory well pipe at a much deeper depth within the subsurface rock. The plan is to add mud and cement into the annular region around the main well to further seal the pipe. Estimates suggest that 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion on April 20. A panel of government scientists released an oil spill budget report on August 4, which estimates that 74 percent of the oil has “either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed”. About 26 percent of the 4.9 million barrels of spilled oil remains on the surface, in the water or washed up on the coastline. A government snapshot of currently oiled coastline (not cumulative) as of August 7 estimates about 649 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline is currently oiled—about 371 miles in Louisiana, 112 miles in Mississippi, 75 miles in Alabama, and 91 miles in Florida.

As of August 7, the oil spill has cost BP an estimated $6.1 billion, including $319 million in 103,900 compensation payments to businesses and individuals affected by the spill. About 145,000 claims have been submitted so far. The cost to BP does not include the outstanding claims, new claims, a large number of potential lawsuits and additional payments to the U.S. government. Investigations, including a criminal probe by the Justice Department, and probes by the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal Chemical Safety Board, the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Academies, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, have yet to be completed. Under the Clean Water Act, BP could be fined $1.1 million per barrel of oil spilled to as much as $4.3 million per barrel if the investigations show gross negligence on the part of the company.

Very rough estimates suggest the oil and gas in the reservoir could be worth as much as $4 billion and while BP’s chief operating officer made comments indicating that BP is considering what to do with the oil and gas in and around the exploratory well, the Interior Department has stated that BP will never be allowed to reopen the well to extract oil and gas.

Additional information about the administration’s response to the oil spill is available from a new Deepwater BP Oil Spill blog that replaces a more succinct oil spill response timeline. The timeline covers the period from April 20 to May 25. The Primary BP Oil Spill Response web site of the Unified Incident Command was the main portal for federal government information until July 7. A new website, RestoretheGulf, is now the main portal for government information.

Back to top

 6. Update on Appropriations

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 9 out of 12 appropriation bills before the August recess, including most of the science agencies. The committee did not complete Defense, Legislative Branch or Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, leaving the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency without appropriation details. The nine measures await a calendar date on the Senate floor for voting by the full chamber before these measures may be reconciled with House appropriations.

The energy appropriations measure (S.3635) would provide $5.012 billion for the Office of Science where most basic research by the agency is conducted, $2.288 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy – all within the Department of Energy. The Senate committee supports slightly more spending for these programs than the House and both are about $1 billion less than the President’s request.

The science appropriations measure (S.3636) would provide about $5.5 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $5.006 billion for science within NASA and $7.353 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). All of these sums represent healthy increases for these programs and are similar to the President’s request and House levels, with the exception of less funding for education at NSF in the Senate appropriations.

Back to top

 7. Senate Considers America COMPETES Re-authorization

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) parts of the re-authorization of the 2007 America COMPETES law. The committee’s portion of the bill (S.3605) authorizes larger funding increases for NIST and NSF over three years, rather than smaller increases over a longer five year period that the House approved at the end of June.

The total budget of NSF would be authorized to grow from $8.254 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to $9.943 billion in FY 2013. This would authorize larger budgets than the House-approved version (H.R. 5116) of COMPETES (e.g. the House authorizes $7.481 billion in FY2011 to $8.764 billion in FY 2013). The Senate measure enhances manufacturing research, establishes a green chemistry research program, adjusts graduate student support, enhances research experiences for undergraduates, establishes a research experiences for high school students, and establishes an industry internship among other things.

NIST’s total budget would be authorized at $1 billion in FY 2011 and would grow to $1.128 billion in FY 2013. The measure would establish an Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, who would also serve as the Director of NIST. The bill establishes a green manufacturing and construction research initiative and an emergency communication and tracking research initiative within NIST.

NOAA would receive directions to promote competitiveness and literacy in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The agency would be directed to initiate a workforce in atmospheric and oceanic sciences through the National Academy of Sciences.

NASA would receive directions to promote science literacy, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The bill notes that the International Space Station is a “valuable and unique national asset” which should be supported until at least 2020 as part of maintaining U.S. competitiveness in science and engineering.

The White House Office of Science and Technology would be requested to lead initiatives on a national innovation and competitiveness strategy, coordination of federal science education, coordination of public access to research and coordination of the federal scientific collection.

Two other Senate committees, Energy and Natural Resources and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, have yet to consider their portions of the America COMPETES re-authorization, so sections on research at the Energy Department and science education at the Education Department have not been introduced. These committees have indicated that the legislation is unlikely to be considered until after the November elections, so it may be several months before a full measure is brought to the Senate floor. In addition the appropriation committees in both houses have already drafted funding levels well below the authorized levels for FY 2011 in this bill. Thus stakeholders can only hope the measure progresses quickly in the fall and that authorized levels for future years are seriously considered when the bill becomes law.

Back to top

 8. House Science Committee Marks Up Two Oil Spill Bills

On July 14, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a markup for the Federal Oil Spill Research Program Act (H.R. 2693) and the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 5716).

H.R. 2693 directs the administration to create the Federal Oil Spill Research Committee, tasked with developing a comprehensive program for oil spill research. The bill asks for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to award competitive grants to research institutions for developing prevention and mitigation technologies, and asks that the National Academies evaluate the status of the oil spill research program. The committee amended the language in H.R. 2693 to clarify the meaning of the bill. Some amendments broaden the focus of the bill, such as including research for oil spills from transportation vessels and vehicles, while others clarify communication between the interagency committee and Congress. Human error and the effect of spills on communities are also addressed in the bill’s amendments. The committee voted to report the amended bill favorably by a voice vote.

H.R. 5716 amends Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to redirect the focus of ultra-deep water drilling research towards safety and spill prevention research. The approved amendments ensure that research and technology are focused on environmental protection and worker safety. Two amendments concern the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). One asks that RPSEA give out awards for safety, and the other mandates that RPSEA includes prevention efforts in its annual report.

Back to top

 9. House Natural Resources Committee Passes Offshore Drilling Bill

The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 3534) by a vote of 27 to 21. The legislation would abolish the Minerals Management Service and divide it into three separate agencies: The Bureau of Energy and Resource Management - to manage leasing, permitting and conduct environmental studies; the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement - to conduct all inspections and investigations related to health, safety and environmental regulations; and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue - to collect all offshore and onshore oil and gas and renewable energy-related revenues.

The CLEAR Act would provide full funding, beginning in 2011, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund, and the Oceans Resources Conservation and Assistance Fund. It contains provisions to overhaul onshore oil and gas regulation, create a solar and wind leasing program and boost conservation funding. The committee also unanimously agreed to create a commission to investigate the Deepwater Horizon disaster and ban BP from obtaining new offshore oil leases.

At the markup, the committee rejected an amendment introduced by Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that would have required revenue sharing with states for offshore drilling and another amendment to end the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on exploratory deepwater drilling. The committee defeated Republican measures that would have removed several provisions in the bill, including onshore oil and gas reforms, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a requirement for companies to disclose to the public the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.

Back to top

 10. Some Congressional Members Oppose Yucca Mountain Termination

Despite the Obama Administration’s determination to shut down the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, many members of Congress oppose the termination. On June 29, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) cannot withdraw its Yucca Mountain construction authorization application, a move that would have halted the project forever.

In response to this ruling, 91 senators and representatives wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking DOE to halt actions to reprogram funds and terminate contracts to dismantle the Yucca Mountain project. The letter, which was signed by 14 Democrats, calls the ruling “a clear statement that the [Energy] Department does not have the authority under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to unilaterally terminate Yucca Mountain.” Conversely, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a staunch opponent of the Yucca Mountain repository, reiterated his opposition and his commitment to work with President Obama and DOE “to ensure Nevada never becomes the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.”

Back to top

 11. Murkowski Introduces Hydropower Bills in Senate

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced two bills in the Senate to increase support of hydropower in the United States. The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2010 (S. 3570) asks the Department of Energy (DOE) to spend $50 million in competitive grant programs to improve existing hydropower facilities and construct new ones at dams that do not currently provide power. Additionally, the bill requires DOE to create a plan to expand hydropower by 2015. The second bill, named the Hydropower Renewable Energy Development Act of 2010 (S. 3571) defines hydropower as a renewable resource—including small hydropower (under 50 megawatts) lake taps, and pumped storage projects—and qualifies it for tax credit as a renewable energy resource. The National Hydropower Association states that the bills could lead to 1.4 million jobs across the country over the next fifteen years.

Back to top

 12. Carbon Capture and Sequestration Bill Introduced

Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Pete Voinovich (R-OH) introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Deployment Act of 2010 (S. 3589). The bill would promote research and create incentives to develop and deploy full scale CCS technologies by funding the creation of a cooperative industry-government research and development program. The program would work in cooperation with the Office of Fossil Energy's CCS research and development program. The cost of development projects would be shared with the industry participant (20%) and the Department of Energy (80%). The measure authorizes $100 million for 2011-15, $50 million for 2016-20, and $20 million for 2021-25. The bill would likely be included in any climate or energy legislation that the Senate might consider, though it looks unlikely that the chamber will consider any comprehensive measure this summer.

Back to top

 13. Representatives Call for Lubchenco’s Resignation Following Misuse of NOAA Funds

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) has called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco to resign in light of recent fisheries controversy.

Earlier this month, an audit of the agency by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department found that NOAA’s law enforcement officials have been misusing penalties collected from fishermen. It was Lubchenco who requested the report and in response to the audit’s results, Lubchenco stated that she was “deeply troubled” by the handling of funds. NOAA is working to implement proper budgeting, expenditure tracking, accounting, legal opinions, expenditure approvals and external review.

Frank has been critical of Lubchenco in the past, particularly over the continued implementation of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires federal fisheries managers to end overfishing by 2010. Frank says that Lubchenco should have worked to alter the law to ease the transition for Northeastern fishermen. Frank’s call for Lubchenco’s resignation was echoed by several other representatives, including John Tierney (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). Frank later backed off of his call after the Obama administration assured him that the fishing industry's problems would have "the highest priority."

Back to top

 14. Congressional Budget Office Estimates Cost of Climate Bill

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the American Power Act, the bill introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, will cut the federal deficit by $19 billion over the next 10 years. The CBO report estimates that the act would increase federal revenues by about $751 billion from 2011 to 2020. It would increase spending by about $232 billion over that same time frame.

Following the release of the CBO report, Kerry and Lieberman issued a joint statement asking senators to pass their legislation, stating that the benefit of reducing the deficit left “no more room for excuses” and that climate and energy legislation needs to be passed this year. However, industry argues that the CBO’s assessments involve uncertainties, since many numbers—including emission rates, availability of new technology and other factors—are projected and cannot be one hundred percent accurate. It is expected that a compromise will be necessary to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Kerry and Lieberman have indicated they will support a less stringent bill that includes a price on carbon.

Back to top

 15. Senate Unable to Progress on Energy or Climate Legislation

The Senate was unable to consider any substantial legislation regarding climate change, energy or oil spill response in the waning days before their August recess. The Kerry-Lieberman, American Power Act, considered the most likely of the climate change bills, seemed to be dead on arrival as soon as it was introduced and senators immediately began discussing paring down parts of the legislation. No alternative to Kerry-Lieberman emerged and no actions were taken to bring the measure to a vote. The Bingaman-Murkowski, American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462), considered the most likely of the energy bills, remains in play but will probably be revised and delayed for consideration until the lame duck session in November.

While the House passed their oil spill response measure, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 3534), by a vote of 209-193 on July 30, the Senate was unable to bring forward any oil spill response bill of their own. The House bill included an amendment that would allow the Interior Department to lift the ban on deepwater drilling for companies that can show that they are meeting stricter safety requirements. According to an August 5th E&E Daily story, “A Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll conducted last week found that 69 percent of those surveyed said they favored including stronger regulation of offshore drilling…” It remains uncertain though what specific regulations might be favored enough by the Senate and the House to secure passage.

Back to top

 16. DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program Announces Awards

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program announced $18.2 million in awards to educate the next generation of nuclear scientists and strengthen nuclear research capabilities at U.S. universities. The awards consist of $5 million in undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and $13.2 million in grants for universities to purchase new equipment or to upgrade their research reactors. Energy Secretary Steven Chu applauded the awards, stating, “To ensure American leadership in the global nuclear energy industry, we need a skilled workforce for years to come. This investment will give our students the support and resources they need to advance nuclear energy and keep America at the forefront of the nuclear industry.” A full list of awardees and more information can be found here.

Back to top

 17. USGS Announces New Assessment Method for Carbon Sequestration

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently announced a new methodology which is able to assess the mass of CO2 that can potentially be injected into underground rock units. This new method will allow the USGS to perform a national assessment of CO2 storage potential.

The methodology was developed in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which authorized the USGS to develop the methods necessary to conduct a nationwide assessment. The methodology allows for assessments at scales ranging from regional to sub-basinal. While many reports have previously calculated subsurface pore volume for potential CO2 storage (i.e. Bachu et al., 2007, and van der Meer and Egberts, 2008), this is the first methodology to use fully probabilistic methods to incorporate geologic uncertainty in calculations of storage potential. For more information, visit the carbon sequestration page of the USGS Energy Resource Program.

Back to top

 18. ACWI Holds Conference, Discusses New Water Programs

The Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) held a conference to discuss current efforts to protect groundwater throughout the country. The Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Anne Castle, attended the meeting and requested feedback on two different programs. The first, the WaterSMART Clearinghouse, is intended to provide information and leadership on sustainable water practices and water conservation to state and local governments, tribal nations, and other interested parties. It will bring together all stakeholders to accomplish this task, and is set to be released July 30, 2010.

Castle asked for ACWI’s feedback on an implementation strategy for the Interior Department’s implementation plan for the WaterSMART program. The assistant secretary asked for advice and comments on how to focus the program from its onset, as well as ensure that the program maintain efficiency and effectiveness. The WaterSMART implementation plan draft will be available for review in August 2010.

Nate Booth, a lead architect for the ongoing Water Quality Exchange (WQX) project, informed ACWI of the near completion of the water data portal. The portal is a system that allows water quality information housed in two different systems—the USGS National Water Information System (NMIS) and the EPA Storage and Retrieval System (STORET) — to be accessible through one portal. It takes the data available through both of these systems and organizes it, so that it uses one system of terms and data access. Over 150 million sites are available through the two different systems. In the future, the portal will include information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and data from state and local agencies.

Back to top

 19. NAS Requests Comments on Future Earth Science Research

The National Research Council (NRC) is conducting a study at the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The study will examine new research opportunities in Earth science, with particular focus on four areas:

  • Identify high-priority and emerging research opportunities in the area of Earth sciences, including surface and deep Earth processes.
  • Identify facilities necessary to support these opportunities.
  • Identify new ways to train the next generation of geoscientists.
  • Identify opportunities for government agencies, industry and international programs to cooperate within these new research projects.

The National Academy of Sciences is requesting comments on the program in an effort to expand feedback to include the public. To add input, fill out the NRC questionnaire.

Back to top

 20. Disasters Roundtable Discusses Use of Satellites for Disaster Response

The Disasters Roundtable of the National Research Council’s Division on Earth and Life Studies held a workshop to develop a vision for the future use of remote sensing technologies before, during, and after natural disasters. Panelists from both the data production and data user communities discussed how to use collaboration, public engagement, and data sharing to bridge the gap between technologists and end users of natural disaster data. Stuart Gill of the World Bank stressed that there is need to “look at the entire disaster cycle,” and use remotely sensed data to prepare for natural disasters instead of solely using data in disaster response. In order to do this, some panelists argued for development of specific technologies such as full spectral capacity, while others argued for finding ways to better utilize existing platforms. The group agreed, however, that it will be important to pursue greater integration of remote sensing data to reduce risks so that disasters can be avoided in the future.

For more information on the Disasters Roundtable, visit the website.

Back to top

 21. Report Estimates Much Higher U.S. Plutonium Waste

A new report, Plutonium Wastes from the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex, suggests that the amount of plutonium buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington is nearly three times what the federal government estimated in a 1996 audit. Robert Alvarez, a former U.S. Energy Department official, arrived at this figure by reanalyzing studies conducted by the department over the last 15 years. Inés R. Triay, the assistant secretary of energy for environmental management, did not dispute Alvarez’s figures.

Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years and is harmful to humans even at low doses, making contamination of drinking water and the natural environment a key concern. Alvarez’s study focused on the amount of plutonium that has leaked from storage tanks, was intentionally dumped in the dirt or was pumped into the ground, a figure which remains unknown, though Alvarez determined that it is higher than previously thought. The fear is that in a few hundred years this plutonium could reach the saturated zone and enter the Columbia River. While cleanup of the site began in the 1990’s, it is still in its early stages. The findings of Alvarez’s study suggest that cleanup will be more complex than previously thought and will require technologies that do not yet exist to extract plutonium from the ground.

Back to top

 22. USGS EDMAP Survey Results

Each year, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) conducts a survey aimed at gauging the impacts of the EDMAP program on its participants. EDMAP, the education component of NCGMP, supports undergraduate and graduate students in a one-year mentored bedrock and surficial geologic mapping project that focuses on a specific geographic area. This interactive and meaningful program helps students gain experience and knowledge in geologic mapping and contributes to the efforts to produce geologic maps for the nation.

Since 1996, NCGMP has supported the geologic mapping efforts of more than 800 students working with more than 230 professors at 140 universities in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.The state geological surveys also work with the program and state survey staff sometimes serve as mentors to the students. This year’s survey shows that EDMAP-supported students have near universal satisfaction with all aspects of the EDMAP experience, including the amount of knowledge gained and the adequacy of their preparation. Also, 82 percent of the participants stated that the program has helped them in some way, and all of the students have gone on to subsequent education or employment in the geosciences. Examples of the variety of positions the students have filled include research geologist, research analyst, project manager, and laboratory technician. More information on NCGMP and the EDMAP program can be found here.

Back to top

 23. Chinese Court Sentences American Geologist

Xue Feng, an American geologist and employee of IHS Inc., has been sentenced to 8 years in Chinese prison and fined $30,000 for selling a classified Chinese oil industry database. U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has issued a statement calling for Xue’s immediate release and repatriation to the United States.

Born in China, Xue studied in the United States and earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago, where he eventually became an American citizen. Xue’s sentence concludes a two-and-a-half year case. Chinese officials claim that Xue received documents on geological conditions of onshore oil wells and coordinates to more than 30,000 of those wells, which belong to the China National Petroleum Corporation and are considered state secrets. Interestingly, the Dui Hua Foundation reports that the Chinese government did not classify the information until after it had been sold to IHS Inc. The Colorado- based company declined to comment on China’s broad interpretation of state secrets. An IHS Inc. spokesman stated that the company was never notified of wrongdoing. Xue’s thesis advisor, David Rowley, at the University of Chicago said that Xue is a “straight-up individual who worked hard, who didn’t push limits,” and that he was “simply doing his job.”

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court stated that Xue’s actions “endangered our country’s national security.” During the trial, Xue argued that the information he gathered is “data that the oil sector in countries around the world make public.”

Back to top

 24. Dutch Environmental Agency Issues Report About IPCC Errors

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency issued a review of errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 report, The Physical Science Bias. The Dutch agency concludes that although errors appeared in the IPCC report, the errors did not change the fundamental conclusion of the report—that climate change caused by humans is occurring and having negative effects on society and ecosystems. The mistakes resulted from a consolidation of data and poor editing and proofreading. The report stated that 55 percent of the Netherlands is under sea level, when in fact only 26 percent of the country is. The statement should have indicated that 55 percent of the country is susceptible to flooding. The Dutch agency cautioned the IPCC to tighten its reviewing process to ensure that such errors are caught before reports are released.

Back to top

 25. British Report Clears Climate Scientists in Email Hacking Case

An inquiry by Muir Russell, chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board of Scotland and a former U.K. civil servant, vindicated the scientists that participated in the emails that were leaked last November, a scandal that was termed “climategate.” The investigation into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit is the third to be conducted. Russell’s report, The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (pdf), found no indication of corruption or dishonesty in the emails, saying the scientists are only at fault for not fully disclosing all data and findings to critics. Russell’s review asserts the scientists did not ignore the peer review process. He found that the graph detailed in the now infamous email exchange referring to “a trick used to hide the decline” in variables tracking global temperatures was not intentionally misleading. The report has completely exonerated Phil Jones, the research center’s director who had stepped down during the investigation, and who will return as the director of research, a new position without administrative duties. More information can be found on the Independent Review’s web page.

Back to top

 26. Ad Campaign to Portray Climate Scientists in a New Way

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) announced a new ad campaign to give the public a broader image of the lives of climate scientists. The ads will run in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Portland Press Herald, on other newspapers’ websites, and on the Washington, DC metro transport system. The campaign is an effort “to educate the public about climate science in a new way in light of the baseless attacks on climate scientists over the last few years” according to a UCS press release.

The ads will feature David Inouye, a researcher from the University of Maryland studying climate change’s effects on wildflowers, insects and birds; Cameron Wake, a University of New Hampshire scientist studying glaciers and ice core samples; and Julia Cole, a geologist from the University of Arizona studying past climate change from evidence found in caves. To see the ads, visit the UCS web site.

Back to top

 27. BP Research Grants and Restrictions

As part of its response to the Gulf oil spill, BP has been offering scientists funding for research related to the oil spill to help defend the company against oil spill litigation. The funding comes with stipulations that scientists cannot publish their work, share their findings with other scientists, or speak about the data they collect for the next 3 years. Only research approved by BP will be funded. In some cases, scientists who sign the contract could lose their government funding for other projects due to a conflict of interest. Some scientists argue the contract may seem attractive because of a lack of research funding from the government. More information is available from the full article.

Back to top

 28. Elementary and Secondary School Statistics Released

The Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system is an annual collection of data reported by state education agencies to the Nation Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the status and types of elementary and secondary schools across the country. Statistics for the type of school (charter, magnet or regular), the status of the school (new, continuing or closed), location (rural, city, town or suburban) and number of students are available for the 2008-2009 school year. Highlights from the report include:

  • Around 49 million students attended 98,706 public schools.
  • More than 1.4 million students attended a charter school.
  • More than 2.3 million students attended a magnet school.
  • The student to teacher ratio averaged 15.8 for the 2008-2009 school year.
  • On average, 44.5 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. (This statistic is considered a proxy for poverty levels.)

For more information, view the full report, Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008-09 (pdf), which is available from the NCES web site.

Back to top

 29. Policy Associate Position at AGI

The American Geological Institute, a non-profit federation of 47 geoscience societies, seeks a government affairs staff member. Major duties and responsibilities include: monitoring and analyzing appropriations bills, legislation and policy developments on geosciences-related issues, updating information on the website, handling logistics for fly-ins as well as internship and fellowship programs, and fostering information flow between the geosciences community and policy makers. The preferred candidate will have exceptional communication and organizational skills; experience in public policy (especially with the federal government and the U.S. Congress); a science education (especially in a field of the geosciences); and familiarity with web publishing. More information about the program at www.agiweb.org/gap. Position will remain open until filled. EOE

Back to top

 30. Key Reports and Publications

*** The National Academy of Sciences ***

Steps Toward Large-Scale Data Integration in the Sciences
Released July 1, 2010. This report summarizes a National Research Council workshop which identified some of the major challenges that hinder large-scale data integration in the sciences and some of the technologies that could lead to solutions. The goals were to identify areas in which the emerging needs of research communities are not being addressed and to point to opportunities for addressing these needs through closer engagement between the affected communities and cutting-edge computer science.

When Weather Matters: Science and Service to Meet Critical Societal Needs
Prepublication released July 12, 2010. The book puts forth the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate committee’s judgment on the most pressing high level, weather-focused research challenges and research to operations needs, and makes corresponding recommendations. The book addresses issues including observations, global non-hydrostatic coupled modeling, data assimilation, probabilistic forecasting, and quantitative precipitation and hydrologic forecasting. The book also identifies three important, emerging issues—predictions of very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy development—not recognized or emphasized in previous studies.

Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies
Released July 12, 2010. This report states that current detection programs are insufficient in detecting the majority of near-Earth objects (NEOs) that may present a tangible threat to humanity and identifies the need for detection of NEOs as small as 30 to 50 meters as these can be highly destructive. The book explores four main types of mitigation including civil defense, "slow push" or "pull" methods, kinetic impactors and nuclear explosions. It also asserts that responding effectively to hazards posed by NEOs requires national and international cooperation.

Controlling Cost Growth of NASA Earth and Space Science Missions
Prepublication released July 15, 2010. Based on prior studies of cost growth in NASA and Department of Defense projects, this book identifies specific causes of cost growth associated with NASA Earth and space science missions. The recommendations in this report focus on changes in NASA policies that would directly reduce or eliminate the cost growth of Earth and space science missions

Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millenia
Prepublication released July 16, 2010. This report quantifies the outcomes of different stabilization targets for greenhouse gas concentrations using analyses and information drawn from the scientific literature. Although it does not recommend or justify any particular stabilization target, it does provide important scientific insights about the relationships among emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, and impacts.

Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration: An Interim Report
Prepublication released July 16, 2010. This interim report identifies programmatic needs and issues to guide near-term decisions that are critical to strengthening the organization and management of life and physical sciences research at NASA. The guiding principle for the study is to set an agenda for research for the next decade that will allow the use of the space environment to solve complex problems in life and physical sciences.

Advancing Aeronautical Safety: A Review of NASA's Aviation Safety-Related Research Programs
Prepublication released July 20, 2010. Advancing Aeronautical Safety contains findings and recommendations on NASA's aviation safety-related research programs. These findings indicate that NASA's aeronautics research enterprise has made, and continues to make, valuable contributions to aviation system safety but it is falling short and needs improvement in some key respects.

Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change
Prepublication released July 22, 2010. Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, a volume in the America's Climate Choices series, describes and assesses different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. It discusses who is making decisions (on the local, state, and national levels), who should be providing information to make decisions, and how that information should be provided. It covers all levels of decision making, including international, state, and individual decision making.

Space Studies Board Annual Report 2009
Released July 26, 2010. This report reviews the activities and reports of the Space Studies Board (SSB) for the year 2009. SSB was established in 1958 to serve as the focus of the interests and responsibilities in space research for the National Academies. SSB provides an independent, authoritative forum for information and advice on all aspects of space science and applications.

*** Government Accountability Office ***

Department of Energy: Further Actions Are Needed to Improve DOE's Ability to Evaluate and Implement the Loan Guarantee Program
Released July 12, 2010. This report analyzes the Department of Energy's (DOE) loan guarantee program (LGP) for innovative energy projects (established in Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005). The broad policy goals that the LGP is intended to support projects that mitigate climate change and create jobs. In order to effectively achieve these goals, GAO recommends that DOE develop performance goals reflecting the LGP's policy goals and activities (such as a certain number of jobs created); revise the loan guarantee process to treat applicants consistently; and develop mechanisms for administrative appeals and for systematically obtaining and addressing applicant feedback.

Coal Power Plants: Opportunities Exist for DOE to Provide Better Information on the Maturity of Key Technologies to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Released July 16, 2010. This report summarizes the GAO’s findings on the maturity of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and plant efficiency technologies, their potential for commercial use, any challenges to their use, and possible implications of deploying these technologies. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed reports and interviewed stakeholders with expertise in coal technologies. They conclude that efficiency improvements offer more potential for near term reductions in CO2 emissions, but they cannot reduce CO2 emissions from a coal plant to the same extent as CCS.

Oil and Gas Management: Past Work Offers Insights to Consider in Restructuring Interior's Oversight
Released July 22, 2010. GAO's recent evaluations of federal oil and gas management have identified key areas where Interior could provide more effective oversight. For example, in a June 2005 report, GAO found that Interior was unable to complete its environmental inspections because of increased onshore drilling activity. GAO also found in a September 2008 review that Interior was not consistently completing inspections to verify oil and gas volumes produced from federal leases. GAO found in a March 2010 report that MMS faces challenges conducting required environmental reviews in Alaska. In a September 2008 report, GAO reported that, compared to other countries, the U.S. receives one of the lowest shares of revenue for oil and gas. Furthermore, a September 2008 GAO review found that MMS's ability to maintain the accuracy of oil and gas production and royalty data was hampered by two key limitations in its IT system. More recently, a March 2010 report found that Interior's long-standing efforts to implement two key technologies for verifying oil and gas production are behind schedule and years from widespread adoption.

*** Congressional Research Reports ***

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress
Released July 2, 2010. This report analyzes the potential policy issues for Congress regarding Coast Guard polar icebreaker modernization including: the potential impact on U.S. polar missions that may arise because the U.S. currently has no operational heavy polar icebreakers; the numbers and capabilities of polar icebreakers the Coast Guard will need in the future; whether to provide these icebreakers through construction of new ships or service life extensions of Polar Star and/or Polar Sea; whether to accelerate the Coast Guard's current schedule for acquiring replacement ships; whether new ships should be nuclear powered; whether new ships should be funded entirely in the Coast Guard budget, or partly or entirely in some other part of the federal budget, such as the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, or both; and whether, as an interim measure, the Polar Star should be repaired and placed back into service.

The 2010 Oil Spill: Criminal Liability Under Wildlife Laws
Released June 28, 2010. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) could be used to prosecute those who caused the 2010 Gulf oil spill. While there are endangered species and marine mammals in the area affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it is more likely that any criminal prosecution would use the MBTA because the prosecution would not have to show that the defendant(s) intended to harm wildlife. The MBTA was used to prosecute Exxon following the Exxon Valdez spill and has been used for decades to find corporations and even their employees criminally liable for the deaths of protected birds.

Back to top

 31. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register can be accessed at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont10.html.

USGS—The Department of the Interior (DOI) is seeking nominations to serve on the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC). The NGAC is a Federal Advisory Committee established under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Committee reviews and comments upon geospatial policy and management issues and provides a forum to convey views representative of non-Federal stakeholders in the geospatial community. Nominations to participate on this Committee must be received by August 24, 2010. Send nominations electronically to ngacnominations@fgdc.gov. For further information, contact John Mahoney, USGS (206)-220-4621. [Thursday, July 8, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 130)]

USGS—The United States Geological Survey (USGS) will ask the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve the information collection (IC) on the USGS’s Land Remote Sensing (LRS) Program and the study that began in 2008 to determine the users, uses, and benefits of Landsat imagery. The USGS asks for comments on whether or not the collection of information is necessary, including whether or not the information will have practical utility. Comments must be submitted to Phadrea Ponds at pponds@usgs.gov by September 10, 2010. Please reference Information Collection 1028-0091. For further information contact Holly Miller at (970) 226-9133. [Monday, July 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 132)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency is announcing a second extension of the public comment period for two related draft documents: (1) “The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields” (EPA/600/R-09/138A) and (2) “A Field-based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams” (EPA/600/R-10/023A). Both documents will be reviewed by an independent Mountaintop Mining Advisory Panel convened by EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB). Comments may be submitted electronically via www.regulations.gov by August 13, 2010. For more information contact the Office of Environmental Information Docket at 202-566-1752 or ORD.Docket@epa.gov. [Tuesday, July 13, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 133)]

NSF—The National Science Foundation (NSF) is required to publish notice of permit applications received to conduct activities regulated under the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978. Interested parties are invited to submit written data, comments, or views with respect to this permit application by August 20, 2010. Comments should be addressed to Permit Office, Room 755, Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230. For more information, contact Nadene G. Kennedy at the same address or (703) 292-7405. [Wednesday, July 21, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 139)]

NIST—The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requests nominations for appointments to its nine existing Federal Advisory Committees. NIST will consider nominations received in response to this notice for appointment to the Committees, in addition to nominations already received. Nominations will be considered on an ongoing basis as positions become vacant. For more information or to submit a nomination, contact Harry Hertz at 301-975-2361or via e-mail at harry.hertz@nist.gov. [Tuesday, July 27, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 143)]

EPA—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education Staff Office is soliciting applications for environmental education professionals for consideration on the National Environmental Education Advisory Council (NEEAC). There is currently a vacancy on the Advisory Council that must be filled: one College and University representative (2010-2013). Applications should be submitted by September 30, 2010. For information regarding this Request for Nominations, please contact Ms. Ginger Potter, Designated Federal Officer (DFO), EPA National Environmental Education Advisory Council, at potter.ginger@epa.gov or (202) 564-0443. [Wednesday, July 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 144)]

Back to top

 32. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

·  Hearings on Water and Oceans Policy (8/04/10)
·  Hearings on Earth Observations (8/04/10)
·  Hearings on Nuclear Energy/Waste Issues (7/29/10)
·  Hearings on Education, R&D, and Workforce Policy (7/29/10)
·  Hearings on Federal Agencies (7/29/10)
·  Hearings on Energy Policy (7/29/10)
·  FY 2011 Appropriations (7/19/10)

Back to top

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

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

This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geosciences community that it serves. More information on these topcs can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at govt@agiweb.org or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.
TO SUBSCRIBE OR UNSUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG

Compiled August 9, 2010.

 

  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Geoscience
 |
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events


agi logo

© 2014. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to: webmaster@agiweb.org.
Privacy Policy