Monthly Review: August 2003
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.
After Blackout, All Bets Off For Energy Conference
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) will hold oversight hearings September 3rd and 4th to determine the cause of the massive blackout that shut down more than 100 power plants, including 22 nuclear reactors, in the United States and Canada and knocked out power to 50 million people over a 9,300-square-mile area stretching from New England to Michigan. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood, North American Electric Reliability Council President Michehl Gent, New York Governor George Pataki and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all been invited to testify. This will kick-start a frenzied month of wrangling over energy issues.
Prior to leaving town for its August recess, the Senate passed last year's version of the energy bill, setting the stage for a House/Senate conference this fall. In the wake of the blackout, President Bush called on Congress to iron out the differences between the very different House and Senate bills and file the conference report within 20 days of returning from the summer break, complete with revamped transmission provisions to ensure reliability of the electricity grid. Political posturing is at its height as northern and eastern lawmakers are pitted against southern and western lawmakers over whether to nationalize the power grid through a network of regional transmission organizations. The House and Senate are operating off of bills from two different years and political climates, and Democrats will no doubt seek to make political hay because the blackout occurred on the Republican watch.
To understand the differences between the House and Senate energy
bills, please see AGI's special web update www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_senatefinal.html
and take a look at the comparison chart at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_bill_comparison.html.
For the most up-to-date information on the oversight hearings to determine
the cause of the blackout, see energycommerce.house.gov/.
The Department of Education Math/Science Partnership (MSP) program is the sole source of dedicated funding for each state to improve K-12 math and science education. As a member of the K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition, AGI co-signed letters this month urging the chairmen of the committees that will fund the DoEd to maintain the 50% increase that MSP received in the House version of the legislation. The program received level funding in the Senate bill. AGI also sent out an action alert asking geoscientists to get in touch with their Representatives urging them to sign on to a "Dear Colleague" letter being circulated by a trio of House members supporting increased funding for the MSP program. The letter will be sent during the first week of September to the members of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the DoEd. Geoscientists were asked to contact their representative by Labor Day to recommend that they join the Ehlers-Holt-Biggert letter. Additional information and the text of the "Dear Colleague" letter can be found at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/education_alert0803.html.
Continuing the push for science education dollars, AGI has partnered with several other groups to send a letter to Senator Bond, Chairman of the committee that funds the National Science Foundation (NSF). This committee will begin their work on the VA/HUD appropriations bill in September. A Math/Science Partnership (MSP) program also exists within NSF. The funds are doled out on a competitive grant basis to bring together teachers and administrators in K-12 schools with mathematics, science and engineering faculty in colleges and universities and other K-12 education stakeholders to improve student achievement in math and science. Over 20 partnerships were created in the first year of the program, yet many are waiting in the wings for funding. The letter asks Senator Bond to support the budget request of $200 million for the NSF MSP, the authorized amounts of $20 million for the Noyce Scholarship Program which provides incentives for science majors to pursue a teaching career, and $30 million for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) for innovative higher education programs. Information on how these programs are faring in the appropriations process can be found at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_vahud.html and www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_labor.html.
As reported last month, the Bush administration released a strategic plan for its Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) in late July. The plan outlines research objectives for the next decade in a reorganized program that brings together thirteen federal agencies. The central vision outlined in the strategic plan calls for research to reduce uncertainties in decision-making. On August 25th, a National Academy of Science committee held an open meeting in Washington to discuss revisions to the CCSP strategic plan. Richard Moss, Director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and Ghassem Asrar, head of the Office of Earth Science at NASA, explained the administration's approach to revising the document in response to the committee's February evaluation of the initial draft plan. They asserted that the revised strategic plan incorporates major changes to its vision, information needs, decision-making support, and program management sections, and adds a new chapter on modeling science. Committee members questioned the speakers on matters including agency cooperation, research time-frame, human capital, and disconnects between Administration policy and supporting science. Moss called the strategic plan a "living document" that will continue to be revised. The committee is expected to release an additional set of recommendations following the meeting. For more details, see AGI's climate change policy page at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html . AGI's summary of the CCSP strategic plan is available at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate_ccsp.html, and the executive summary of the plan is available at www.commerce.gov/opa/press/2003_Releases/July/24_ccsp_exec_summary.pdf.
On August 11th, President Bush nominated Utah Governor Michael O.
Leavitt to be the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.
The selection of the three-term Republican is widely viewed as a demonstration
of the administration's preference for a decentralized approach to
environmental issues characteristic of Western states. Leavitt claims
his success at improving air quality in the Grand Canyon demonstrates
his record as a moderate consensus-builder. Detractors describe his
policies of opening public lands in Utah to road-building and industry
as a pattern of undermining environmental protections. A major clash
over the future of environmental policy under the EPA appears likely
when Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled in the fall. More
details are available in AGI's writeup of the Leavitt selection at
On August 26th, the Bush Administration announced final changes to the definition of "equipment replacement" under the New Source Review portion of the Clean Air Act. Under the new definition, thousands of power plants, refineries, pulp and paper mills, chemical plants and other industrial facilities will be able to make upgrades without having to install new antipollution devices as long as the upgrade costs less than 20% of the replacement value of the entire unit.
Utilities, which have pushed for this revision for several years, said the change would allow them to keep their plants in good working order. That, they say, will benefit consumers because the supply of electricity will be more reliable. Companies also say rate hikes will be less likely as production becomes more energy-efficient. Environmentalists contend that there will be greater pollution as pre-1970 facilities will be able to make use of this "routine maintenance" for years and years, extending the life of facilities that should be shut down in favor of bringing newer, safer, more technologically advanced plants on-line.
Opponents want the new rule thrown out, but according to a recent
report by the General Accounting Office (the investigative arm of
Congress), most of the evidence either way is anecdotal. The report
is available as an Acrobat (PDF) document at www.gao.gov/new.items/d03947.pdf.
As with many other things in our modern world, this issue too will
likely be settled in court.
Just before the Labor Day weekend, the White House Office of Management and Budget released draft standards that would subject the scientific basis for new regulations to peer review by scientists outside the federal government. The guidelines are part of OMB's efforts to emphasize the management side of its mission and are the brainchild of John Graham, who heads the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In a press release, Graham stated: "Peer review is an effective way to further engage the scientific community in the regulatory process . The goal is fewer lawsuits and a more consistent regulatory environment, which is good for consumers and business." Although the guidelines are intended to establish government-wide standards for peer review, Graham has stated that the agencies likely to be most heavily affected by the new guidelines are the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. According to the Washington Post, the guidelines include a trigger: "If a regulation costs private firms more than $100 million a year and companies challenge the quality of the science behind it, regulators must convene a panel of experts from outside the agency to reevaluate the science." Critics of the proposal argue that the mandated peer review represents an effort by the administration to slow down the regulatory process. The guidelines and press release are available as an Acrobat document from OMB at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/2003-34.pdf. Comments are due by October 28th, and the final guidelines are expected to go into effect in February 2004.
A spokesperson for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently described the broad perspective the Administration is seeking on federal science initiatives. In addition to assessing priority areas, OSTP aims to improve efficiency and "optimize scientific discovery" by considering how different programs are related and through improved coordination between agencies. A June 5th OSTP/Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo on FY 2005 science funding priorities issued to heads of federal agencies suggests five priority areas of R&D. These include: combating terrorism, nanotechnology, networking and information technology, molecular biology, and environment and energy. Geoscientists may be interested to learn that "securing critical infrastructure" is one of seven research priorities highlighted within anti-terror R&D. Within environment and energy research, the Administration prioritizes climate change, environmental observations, and hydrogen fuels. According to the memo, the Administration's investments into climate change R&D "will increase our understanding of climate change science to provide sound climate policy decision-making." The Administration's goal for environmental observations R&D is "to enhance capabilities to assess and predict key environmental systems." The full text of the memo is available as an Acrobat document at www.ostp.gov/html/OSTP-OMB%20Memo.pdf. Additional coverage at www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2003/107.html.
On August 28th, the New Mexico State Board of Education unanimously adopted science education standards that were strongly endorsed by scientific and educational organizations. The 13-0 vote ended a campaign by proponents of Intelligent Design creationism to insert alternate language into the standards, weakening the treatment of evolution. The previous day, the board's Instructional Services Committee passed the standards by a 4-2 vote. Numerous organizations sent letters to the board urging support of the draft standards, including the American Institute of Physics, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Geological Institute. Scientists in New Mexico played an active role in developing and then defending the new standards. The final draft, which went out for public comment in July, endorses biological evolution as a pillar of scientific knowledge. Once instituted, the standards will guide science teachers in public schools statewide by creating annual performance requirements for students as they graduate from kindergarten all the way through high school.
For commentary on the spate of anti-evolution flareups around the country this summer, please see "Opposition to Evolution Takes Many Forms" in the September issue of Geotimes, online at www.geotimes.org/sept03/scene.html. Additional information sources include http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html and www.ncseweb.org.
The new mayor of Denver is not your typical politician. The former
exploration geologist turned brew-pub entrepreneur was sworn into
office on July 21st, two months after winning his first attempt at
elected office. When he was laid off from his oil-company job in the
mid-1980s, John Hickenlooper used his severance pay to renovate a
historic building in the downtown warehouse district, opening the
Wynkoop Brewing Company and sparking revitalization of the area now
known as Lower Downtown. In the August issue of Geotimes, AGI congressional
science fellow Larry Kennedy writes about the path his old friend
(they met as geology students at Wesleyan University in the 1970s)
took to City Hall. See Larry's article at www.geotimes.org/aug03/scene.html.
With the tough economy and war on terrorism at home and abroad,
federal science agencies are fighting proposals for tight funding
next year. In August, the geoscience community was encouraged to make
a strong case to Congress on the value of these programs. Building
on the success of this spring's 8th Annual Science-Engineering-Technology
Congressional Visits Day (CVD), which brought scientists and engineers
to Capitol Hill to visit Members of Congress and their staff right
at the start of the congressional budget cycle, an AGI
alert asked geoscientists to schedule an appointment with their
Representative or Senator in the local office to voice support for
increased federal investment in science and technology. Participants
in the August District Visit Days carried forward a core message that
broad federal funding for research promotes the nation's security,
prosperity, and the innovation of new ideas. In addition, participants
could advance their own messages about programs that they see as valuable
examples of the federal science and technology enterprise emphasizing,
for example, the value of the geosciences to society. More information
about CVD is available at www.aas.org/cvd/.
The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated
to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific
While Congress was taking its ease in August, here at AGI we took the opportunity to enhance our coverage of the fiscal year (FY) 2004 appropriations process, which will resume with a vengeance in September. Information on all the geoscience-related appropriations bills can be accessed through the overview page at www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004.html. Updates for each bill include details on funding levels set by House and Senate appropriators for key geoscience programs. We even threw in easy-to-read budget tables and a new color version of the budget process timeline (suitable for framing) at no additional cost! Please let us know how these new pages are working for you or if there are other changes we could incorporate to meet your needs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Election 2004 is still nearly 15 months away, but both sides are already staking out their positions for a contentious fight. And nowhere is the fight shaping up to be more contentious than on environmental issues. As the campaign heats up, the attacks on environmental platforms and voting records will become more pointed and brazen with each side touting their successes and adroitly defending themselves from critics. Candidate web sites already in place, and others that will spring up in the coming months, can serve as an interesting barometer of how science is figuring into the current political landscape.
At the end of August, President Bush unveiled his re-election campaign web site (www.georgewbush.com). The site details his stance on a range of issues including the environment. The Environment In-Depth section features an issue brief that high-lights hydrogen fuel, the Clear Skies Initiative, brownfields cleanup, diesel regulations and "common-sense approaches to improving the environment while protecting the quality of American life." Since the president was touting his Healthy Forests Initiative in late August, there was also a plethora of information about his visits out west promoting the thinning of forests so wildfires do not burn as often or as hot. Each candidate in the Democratic primary -- nine at present -- has a web site (listing at www.democrats.org/whitehouse/) and each has placed environmental issues in the core of their agenda. Like the president, these candidates emphasize their support for sound science underpinning environmental decisions.
The strongest political broadside on this topic can be found not
on a campaign web site but from within Congress. Earlier this year,
House Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA)
asked the committee's Democratic staff to assess the treatment of
science and scientists by the Bush Administration. Their highly critical
findings have been compiled in a newly released report, "Politics
and Science in the Bush Administration," heavily focused on environmental
and health-related issues. The report is on the committee's web site
What follows is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Request for Applications for fiscal year 2003 investigator initiated grants. Volume 68, Number 150 (5 August 2003): p. 46185.
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Open meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on September 9, 2003. Volume 60, Number 166 (27 August 2003): p. 51577-51578
OSTP. Request for information regarding National Science and Technology
Council/Committee on Science/Subcommittee on Research Business Models
by September 22, 2003. Volume 68, Number 151 (6 August 2003): p. 46631-46632.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Request for Public Comments on Information Collection To Be Submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for Review Under the Paperwork Reduction Act. Volume 68, Number 153 (8 August 2003): p. 47361-47362.
Department of Energy (DOE). Notice of Availability of Draft Strategic Plan and request for comment by September 11, 2003. Volume 68, Number 155 (12 August 2003): p. 47917.
National Science Foundation (NSF). Notice of Permit Applications
Received under the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, Pub. L. 95-541.
Volume 68, Number 156 (13 August 2003): p. 48417-48418.
EPA. Notice of acceptability/Notice 18 for Significant New Alternatives Policy Program concerning Protection of Stratospheric Ozone. Volume 68, Number 162 (21 August 2003): p. 50533-50540.
MMS. Final Notice of Sale (NOS) 186, Beaufort Sea, Alaska, Outer
Continental Shelf (OCS). Volume 68, Number 162 (21 August 2003): p.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Brett Beaulieu, and David Applegate.
Sources: American Institute of Physics, Climate Change Science
Program Strategic Plan; Federal Register; George W. Bush re-election
campaign; Greenwire; House Committee on Energy and Commerce; House
Committee on Government Reform minority staff, Math/Science Partnership
Working Group; National Academy of Science; National Center for Science
Education; Santa Fe New-Mexican; Science-Engineering- Technology Work
Group; Washington Post; White House Office of Management and Budget;
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted September 2, 2003