Monthly Review: August 2005
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.
Below is a brief and non-comprehensive timeline of the path
of Hurricane Katrina, the state and local response,
and the federal government response. Estimates
of the amount of damage are given, but could change as more is learned
in the aftermath of this disaster. No estimates of the loss of life
or injuries are provided because of the larger uncertainties in these
Damaging winds and a massive storm surge destroyed thousands of houses and an unknown number of buildings, roads, bridges, boats and vehicles along the coast. Subsequent flooding damaged hundreds of thousands of houses and more buildings, roads, boats and vehicles. Electricity and communications (telephone land lines and mobile phones) for over a million people and an unknown number of businesses and government facilities were knocked out by wind and water throughout the Gulf Coast. Over a million people were displaced and the city of New Orleans was completely shut down. Oil production, oil refineries and oil distribution by pipeline or other means throughout the stricken Gulf Coast region have been limited or completely shut down.
The system of ports of South Louisiana near Fort Fourchon and Pilottown and the New Orleans port were damaged, hundreds of barges were lost or damaged and navigational waterways from the ports to the Mississippi River have been blocked with debris. The port system of South Louisiana is the largest U.S. port with 198.8 million tons in trade in 2003. About 59% of U.S. grain exports go out through Gulf Coast ports while 90% of corn exports and 60% of soybean exports go out through the New Orleans port. Farmers in the Midwest are concerned about the economic impact of lower grain prices and higher transportation costs if the Gulf Coast ports cannot handle barges of agricultural products coming down the river after the upcoming harvest in a few weeks.
AGI put out a media advisory on September 1, 2005 providing additional information and educational tools on hurricanes.
AGI's Government Affairs Program (GAP) also released an action alert on September 2, 2005 asking for geoscientists and geotechnical engineers with expertise in hurricane hazard mitigation and assessing the effect of Hurricane Katrina on Gulf Coast energy supplies and distribution to contact us. GAP is collecting a list of experts who can inform Congress about these issues in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects on the Gulf Coast. GAP has received many responses from petroleum geologists to coastal erosion specialist and we greatly appreciate the response from our diverse and valuable Member Societies. For more details and to volunteer, please see our action alert at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/katrina_alert.html
GAP will be working to inform Congress of the geologic expertise available to help develop sound policy for disaster assessment, hazards mitigation and rebuilding hurricane-prone regions while the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina are the focus of national attention. Congress will hold many hearings in the coming weeks to months about Hurricane Katrina. Their first priority will be relief and support for the over one million people affected by the disaster and at least two more emergency supplemental aid packages are expected to be signed into law in the coming weeks. Additional hearings and possible legislation will focus on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and how to rebuild devastated areas. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains legislation authorizing as much as $1 billion for coastal restoration in the Gulf Coast. Congress is likely to increase spending for restoration to protect coastal communities from future hurricanes. Plans for rebuilding New Orleans and other coastal communities are uncertain at this time, however, sound scientific and engineering practices should be considered.
This past June, the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and
Prediction held a hearing on severe storm preparedness, including
testimony addressing the vulnerability of New Orleans. An archived
web cast of this hearing is available on the committee
website, and a full summary of the hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/wind_hearings.html
here for a current list of hazards legislation in the 109th congress
with links to hearing summaries completed by the Government Affairs
The Congressional Hazards Caucus Coalition will hold an earthquake briefing on September 20, 2005 in the Rayburn House Office building. Our speakers will be David Wald, a seismologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, Stuart Nishenko, a seismologist from Pacific Gas and Electric, Clifford J. Roblee, a geotechnical engineer and Executive Director for the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Consortium, Inc. and Russ Paulsen, an emergency responder with earthquake expertise from the American Red Cross. The Coalition consists of many diverse organizations whose members include scientists, engineers, emergency responders and insurers. AGI and several of AGI's Member Societies, including the American Association of State Geologists, the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America and the Seismological Society of America, are part of the coalition. Other Member Societies are encouraged to join the coalition and help the Caucus inform Congress about natural disasters. More information about the Coalition and the Caucus is available at www.hazardscaucus.org.
September is National Preparedness Month and it is sponsored jointly by the American Red Cross and the Department of Homeland Security. They plan to hold events around the country to help make the public more aware about the critical need to prepare for disasters. To learn more about how you and your family can prepare for emergencies or get involved visit: www.ready.gov or www.redcross.org or www.citizencorps.gov.
President Bush signed the fiscal year 2006 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (PL 109-54) on August 23, 2005. The legislation included $1.5 billion in funding to meet shortfalls for fiscal year 2005 Department of Veterans Affairs funding. It was partly due to the urgency in making up this shortfall that the bill was approved by Congress and signed by the President ahead of most of the other appropriations bills. Besides Veterans Affairs, the bill makes appropriations for the Department of the Interior (except the Bureau of Reclamation), the Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Smithsonian Institution and related agencies. Because of the reorganization of the appropriations committees, this is the first time that Interior, EPA and the Forest Service have been considered in the same bill. Among the geoscience-related agencies, the USGS ($976 million), the Forest Service ($4,265 million), the Bureau of Land Management ($1,788 million) and Smithsonian ($624 million) all received increases in total funding compared to fiscal year 2005 levels.
For the full breakdown of budget appropriations by department, visit
On August 9, 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its new public safety standards for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, overcoming what has been a significant obstacle to starting the licensing process for the site.
The new two-tiered standard sets the acceptable level of radiation exposure for an individual living near the site to 15 millirem per year (roughly equivalent to three chest X-rays, according to EPA) for the first 10,000 years and then increases the radiation exposure limit to 350 millirem above background per year for up to 1 million years. These standards are designed to address all potential sources of exposure, including air, groundwater and soil. According to an EPA press release, the new standards also require that the repository "withstand the effects of earthquakes, volcanoes and significantly increased rainfall while safely containing the waste during the 1 million-year period."
Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn and Attorney General Brian Sandoval quickly condemned the new standards as overly lax, calling the ruling "a snub to the scientific community." According to Greenwire, the Department of Energy did not release an expected target date for filing their license application, but the agency will likely file the application by early next year.
Read a full summary at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/yucca.html
In an attempt to provide some long-term relief from rising gas prices, the Department of Transportation announced a new policy on August 23, 2005 to raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light trucks between 2008 and 2011. The proposal diverges significantly from the administration's previously rigid opposition to raising fuel efficiency standards for pick-up trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and minivans; however, environmentalists maintain that the new regulations will not dramatically change gasoline consumption.
Under the new rules, light trucks, which currently adhere to a 21 mpg standard (22.2 mpg by 2007), would be divided into six compliance categories by size. Efficiency targets by 2011 would range from 28.4 mpg in the smallest class to 21.4 mpg in the largest class. Vehicles over 8500 pounds, such as the Hummer, would be exempt from these standards. According to administration estimates, the rule would result in a 15.9% improvement in light truck fuel economy from 2004 and 2011, and it would save 10 billion gallons of gasoline over the lifetimes of vehicles built between 2008 and 2011. To place this savings in perspective, the U.S. currently consumes 140 billion gallons of gas each year according to the Department of Energy.
Environmentalists cited in recent press reports say that the true
impact of the rules will depend heavily on a variety of factors, because
automakers will have several opportunities to use the six-tiered system
to dodge significant efficiency changes. Furthermore, the impact of
the new standards might be eclipsed by the effect skyrocketing gas
prices may have on consumer choices in the near future.
After two years of collaboration, nine northeastern states have agreed to reduce power plant emissions in the region to 10% of current levels by 2020. On August 24, 2005 the New York Times obtained and reported on a confidential draft proposal for the regional initiative, which is, according to the Times, the first such cooperative regulatory action in the history of the United States. Although the proposal is not finalized, the Times interviewed one state official who said, "we have very high hopes of getting a resolution through to all the states by the end of September."
Environmentalists who were interviewed in the article said that the
proposal would achieve roughly the same emission reductions as those
instituted under the Kyoto Protocol. A regional cap-and-trade program
would freeze emissions at current levels starting in 2009, and further
reductions would be enforced after 2015. However, because such a multi-state
regulatory agreement is unprecedented, the new plan may have a greater
impact on national environmental policy than on the environment itself.
California, Washington and Oregon are already exploring a similar
regional agreement that, together with the northeastern states' agreement,
may exert considerable pressure on the federal government to change
their position on greenhouse gas control.
On August 9, 2005, a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panel dismissed a Canadian company's claim against California's ban on the gasoline additive MTBE. Methanex, the world's leader in methanol production (a key component of MTBE), said that California's ban hampered foreign investments and demanded compensation for revenue losses. The case was the most high-profile example of a foreign company exercising its right under NAFTA to challenge regulations that it claims unfairly restricts its international business. Greenwire quoted California Attorney General Bill Lockyer as saying that the panel's rejection of the case "sends a message to all foreign investors who would challenge the environmental and labor laws that are the fabric of our democracy."
MTBE is a chemical blended with gasoline to lower toxic emissions that became widely used in the U.S. after an oxygenate requirement was imposed nationwide under the 1990 Clean Air Act. California Governor Gray Davis ordered a ban on the chemical after studies suggested the chemical caused cancer and other neurological and skin conditions, and may pose a threat to groundwater supply.
On August 11, 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously approved a resolution demanding that Iran halt nuclear processing activities by September 3, 2005. After nuclear non-proliferation negotiations deteriorated between Iran, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, Iran resumed activities at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Esfahan.
In the resolution, the IAEA "expresses serious concern"
over these developments, stating that "the Agency is not yet
in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials
or activities in Iran."
Several scientific societies responded immediately to President Bush's statement to the press that intelligent design should be taught along with evolution in public schools. Below is a non-comprehensive list of responses from some organizations:
The full, 10-member Kansas State Board of Education voted on July 9, 2005 to accept a draft of revised science standards requiring students "to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory." The Board voted 6-4 in favor of the draft despite written arguments from the science standards writing committee, who had originally excluded similar language.
Although the revised standards do not specifically advocate for the teaching of intelligent design, the new language could bring such discussions into classrooms. Changes that were made on June 9th make reference to testimony offered during three days of hearings last May, and state that "evolution is accepted by many scientists but questioned by some" and that "all scientific theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."
The revised science standards have been sent to an external review board based in Denver, Colorado. The review, at a cost of more than $20,000, is intended to provide final legitimacy to the science standards. The review will be completed by October or November.
For more coverage read AGI's Kansas update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html
The House Education and Workforce Committee approved a major bill last month that includes provisions encouraging students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). During a committee mark-up of the College Access and Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), Representatives Howard McKeon (R-CA) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) successfully offered an amendment that would authorize over $41 million over the next five years for student loan relief, math and science scholarships, and state assistance grants aimed at strengthening STEM education. The proposal, which would offer up to $5,000 to forgive student loan interest for science and math majors, includes ideas from a bill proposed earlier this year by Science Appropriations Committee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). Wolf's bill had offered up to $10,000 in loan interest relief, but lacked funds for scholarships and state-local partnerships.
"It is simply unacceptable that America's high school students are struggling to keep up with their industrialized-world peers in the fields of math and science," said Representative McKeon. "This is a serious crisis that we cannot wait to address."
The main purpose of the College Access & Opportunity Act is to reauthorize and reform the Higher Education Act, which is the nation's primary legislation governing student financial assistance and other programs that enable low and middle-income students to pursue a college education. Other provisions in the bill, which reform the Pell Grant system and other programs, received mixed reviews on Capitol Hill and throughout the education community. The committee approved the bill along strict party lines on July 22, 2005, with House Democrats calling the bill the "largest cut in federal student financial aid in the 40-year history of the aid programs." The full House is expected to take up the bill in the fall, after which it will be passed on to the Senate.
For more information, visit the Education and Workforce website,
In late July, two hundred teachers participated in a five-day training seminar intended to enhance science and math instruction in third through fifth-grade classrooms. The Teachers Academy was sponsored by pro-golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife Amy, in partnership with ExxonMobil. The National Science Teachers Association and Math Solutions Professional Development provided curricula for the program and experienced educators demonstrated various tools designed to increase student interest and achievement in scientific disciplines.
When the Mickelsons partnered with ExxonMobil a year ago, Phil explained,
"It's hard to imagine what modern life would be like without
energy, and there would be very little usable energy without science
and technology. Amy and I are eager to work with ExxonMobil to support
education programs that will open up the world of science and math
to young people. It's our hope that these young people will become
the scientists and engineers of tomorrow."
In late July, fifteen business groups representing every sector of the economy released a bold education plan to double the number of college graduates in science, technology, engineering and math by 2015. Entitled "Tapping America's Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative," the 20-page report focuses on five critical areas in need of improvement, including public support, K-12 education reform, visa and immigration policies, educational incentives, and basic research funding.
"We need to build a strong focus on math and science today so that we continue to encourage leaders in these fields tomorrow," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Donohue in a July 27th press release. "It is no secret that in this country we are on the verge of losing a future generation of highly skilled technical individuals, and we cannot let that happen."
"The good news is that a strong consensus has emerged on what needs to be done to bolster American innovation and maintain our scientific and technological leadership," said John J. Castellani, President of Business Roundtable, which organized the effort. Now we must mobilize Americans to adopt and carry out some straightforward solutions that will make a significant difference for our students and our economy."
On August 11, 2005, Google announced that it will stop scanning copyrighted materials for its Google Print Library Project until November, giving copyright holders a chance to opt out of the program. Google Print, which was launched in October, 2004 has so far partnered with five major libraries with the ambitious mission of making the full text of all books searchable online. The new rules will affect scanning at Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Michigan.
In response to concerns that the program could lead to unlawful use
of copyrighted text and compromise the business of publishers, Google's
new policy allows copyright holders to submit a list of books they
don't want Google to scan. The policy places the burden of copyright
protection on the publishers, causing concerned groups to continue
to question its lawfulness, according to the Washington Post. Google
maintains that, "the new approach would best balance the rights
and needs of users and publishers."
Court documents released to the public on August 25, 2005 indicate that a library has sued the Justice Department over an FBI demand for records. The FBI can use a document called the national security letter (NSL) to demand records from a company or institution without the approval of a judge. The law further stipulates that the company or institution may not disclose the request to the public. The restrictions on using NSLs were loosened under the U.S. Patriot Act. The use of NSLs is distinct from the "library provision" of the Patriot Act, which the Justice Department said has never been used. According to the Washington Post, the Justice Department has declined to state how many NSLs have been served.
The suit was filed in Connecticut and the unknown plaintiff is described
as a member of the American Library Association in court documents.
In September 2004 a judge in New York ruled that the federal statute
governing the use of NSLs was unconstitutional, however, the Justice
Department is appealing that decision. Stay tuned for more or less
information about NSLs.
A National Science Foundation plan to hire a Russian icebreaking vessel to carry out supply missions to Antarctic research stations has received a chilly reception from the Senate. As of fiscal year (FY) 2006, the NSF is supposed to take over responsibility for the operation and upkeep of two U.S. icebreaking vessels from the Coast Guard. In light of the considerable financial burden of maintaining and modernizing the 30-year-old vessels, language in the House science appropriations bill encouraged the NSF to "immediately begin a concurrent pursuit of alternative, more economical, icebreaking solutions." However, the Senate version specifies that NSF "shall procure polar icebreaking services from the Coast Guard," and must work with the White House to ensure that the U.S. fleet is "capable of meeting NSF's future ice breaking needs." The two vessels are currently docked in Washington State for repair and a news report in Science Magazine (subscription required) suggests that Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) requested the language in the Senate bill.
NSF's decision to use the Russian vessel could save up to $5 million
in fuel and other operating costs that could go towards conducting
major repairs on the U.S. icebreakers. The decision is also in line
with an NSF advisory panel report, which provides other innovative
solutions to ensure that icebreaking costs do not jeopardize other
NSF programs. The Senate and the House will have to reconcile their
differences when the appropriations bills are considered in a conference
Forest Service officials reduced their estimates of how much revenue can be expected from recreational activities on National Park land. In 2002, Bush Administration officials found that recreation accounted for $11 billion of the agency's total revenue, roughly one tenth of the $111 billion projected under the Clinton Administration. As a result, the Forest Service has adjusted its estimates of the economic contribution of recreation activities from 85% of the park system's total contribution to 56%. Critics of the administration are concerned that these adjustments will allow the government to justify collecting more revenue from logging and mining on public land. Forest Service officials maintain, on the other hand, that the agency has not diminished the recreational value of National Forest land, but is simply relying on better statistics. The study was done for the Forest Service by the nonprofit, Natural Resources News Service.
More information about the final results and how the results were
obtained are available on the Forest
On July 22, 2005, the Senate confirmed William Alan Jeffrey as the 13th director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Formerly the senior director for homeland and national security and assistant director for space and aeronautics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Jeffrey boasts an extensive professional record in national security concerns, from computer security and communications to larger technological investments and space operations.
Jeffrey's 17 years of experience in federal science and technology policy includes a PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University, a B.Sc. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a distinguished career at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
NIST is now the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The agency was authorized to receive abut $3 million to coordinate NEHRP, but they have not been appropriated any funds, leaving NEHRP without any coordinated leadership.
A press release is available on the NIST
In mid-August, NASA's Chief Administrator Michael Griffin tapped
Mary Cleave to lead the agencies' Science Directorate. Cleave is an
engineer and former astronaut who has been a project manager at NASA
since 2000 and chief of Earth science programs since 2004. In the
coming months and years, Cleave will face the challenge of protecting
NASA's science budget while controlling price overruns related to
the James Webb Telescope and overseeing the fate of the Hubble Telescope.
Although Cleave does not have extensive experience working with the
scientific community, NASA chief scientist James Garvin is confident
that her experience with human space flight makes her a strong advocate
for scientific research, according to Science
On August 24, 2005, the American Geological Institute (AGI) and the
American Geophysical Union (AGU) released an analysis of 2003 PhD
recipients in Earth, atmospheric, ocean and space sciences. The results
show that, despite an economic downturn in recent years, employment
opportunities and starting salaries for geoscientists have remained
stable or increased slightly over 2001 and 2002. Of those surveyed,
87% found work directly related to their field, and women earned a
slightly higher percentage of PhDs compared to 2002.
To download a copy of the full report, go to http://www.agiweb.org/career/phdreport03.pdf.
The application deadline for the AGI Geoscience and Public Policy Internship is fast approaching, on October 15, 2005. Each fall and spring semester, AGI and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) sponsor one outstanding geoscience student who has a strong interest in public policy to work as an intern in AGI's Government Affairs Program. The intern will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies as he or she helps monitor and analyze geoscience-related legislation in Congress, attend congressional hearings and respond to information requests from AGI's member societies. For details about the internship and how to apply, visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns.
Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences 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/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
BLM: The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have extended the public comment period for the proposed rule published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2005. The proposed rule would revise requirements necessary for the approval of all proposed oil and gas exploratory, development, or service wells on all Federal and Indian (except Osage Tribe) onshore oil and gas leases. It also covers approvals necessary for subsequent well operations, including abandonment. Because the recently enacted Energy Policy Act of 2005 impacts certain provisions of the proposed rule, the BLM and the FS are extending the comment period to October 25, 2005, to give the public additional time to comment. For more information, go to http://www.regulations.gov. [Federal Register: August 26, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 165)]
BLM: The Bureau of Land Management posted a request for public nominations for five members of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Advisory Committee (GSENM-MAC). The GSENM-MAC provides advice and recommendations to GSENM on science issues and the achievement of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Management Plan objectives. GSENM will receive public nominations until September 26, 2005. [Federal Register: August 22, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 161)]
DOT: The Department of Transportation has released for public comment the Bush Administration's new Light Truck Average Fuel Economy Standards for model years 2008-2011 (See Related Story). The agency is seeking information that will help it assess the effect of the proposed standards on fuel economy, manufacturers, consumers, the economy, and motor vehicle safety. Comments must be received on or before November 22, 2005 and submitted to the DOT. Instructions are available at: http://dms.dot.gov. [Federal Register: August 30, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 167)]
EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency announced a final rule extending the deferred effective date for the 8-hour Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards until December 31, 2005. The rule applies to 14 areas of the country that have entered into Early Action Compacts, in which they have agreed to reduce ground-level ozone pollution earlier than the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires. [Federal Register: August 29, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 166)]
EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed their revised public health and safety standards for radioactive material stored or disposed of in the potential repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The notice opens a public comment period effective until October 21, 2005. For the full notice, [Federal Register: August 22, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 161)]
MMS: The Minerals Management Service within the Department of the
Interior posted a solicitation for comments from interested and affected
parties on the preparation of a New 5-Year (2007-2012) Outer Continental
Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program. MMS will begin to prepare
environmental impact statements for the program and will consider
comments received in response to this notice in developing the draft
proposed program and in determining the scope of the imact assessment.
The MMS must receive all comments and information by October 11, 2005.
The commenting system can be accessed at http://www.mms.gov/5-year/2007-2012main.htm.
[Federal Register: August 24, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 163)]
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 Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, and Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Greenwire, Google Blog, Environmental Protection Agency, Senate Appropriations Committee, American Institute of Physics, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, Kansas State Department of Education, Inter Press Service News Agency, The CalTrade Report and Science Magazine.
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Posted September 8, 2005.