Monthly Review: August 2007
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.
On August 9, 2007, President Bush signed the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act" (H.R. 2272). The law authorizes a doubling of the research budget of the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science at the Energy Department over 7 years as well as $33.6 billion over fiscal years 2008 to 2010 for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs across the federal government.
In a press release, the President praised the measure saying, "This legislation shares many of the goals of my American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). ACI is one of my most important domestic priorities because it provides a comprehensive strategy to help keep America the most innovative Nation in the world by strengthening our scientific education and research, improving our technological enterprise, and providing 21st century job training."
The President also offered some criticism in his written statement, saying "I am, however, disappointed that Congress failed to authorize my Adjunct Teacher Corps program to encourage math and science professionals to teach in our schools. I am also disappointed that the legislation includes excessive authorizations and expansion of government. In total, the bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive -- including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development more appropriately left to the private sector -- and also provides excessive authorizations for existing programs. These new programs, additional requirements and reports, and excessive authorizations will divert resources and focus from priority activities aimed at strengthening the basic research that has given our Nation such a competitive advantage in the world economy. Accordingly, I will request funding in my 2009 Budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI, but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in this bill."
In conclusion the President called on Congress to " complete work on the remaining components of ACI, including modernizing and making permanent the research and development tax credit, authorizing the Adjunct Teacher Corps program, and increasing our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest high-skilled workers from around the world."
On August 14, 2007, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies about budget priorities for fiscal year 2009. While Congress grapples with completing the fiscal year 2008 budget by October 1, 2007, the executive branch is working on next year's budget.
The memorandum emphasizes the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), whose centerpiece is a doubling of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology core activities over 10 years. The memorandum calls upon these agencies to submit increases that " meet scheduled, ongoing facilities needs and provide for unique, high-value research opportunities." The memo also indicates that real increases for basic research at the Department of Defense should be a "significant priority".
As in past memos, the Administration favors federal R&D investments that improve future quality of life; spur technological innovation, economic competitiveness and new job growth; enhance STEM education; maximize the effectiveness of the science and technology enterprise through merit-based peer-review; and encourage interdisciplinary and international partnerships to accelerate scientific progress around the world. The Administration also favors "high-payoff activities that require a Federal presence to attain long-term national goals, especially national security, energy independence, and a next generation air transportation system".
A new priority on the list this year and one that is of particular interest for the geosciences community is to "improve our ability to understand and respond to climate change and other global environmental issues and natural disasters through better observation, data, analysis, models, and basic and social science research"
In a section entitled "Energy and Climate Change Technology", federal R&D should focus on energy security and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Agencies should align their R&D portfolios to achieve two specific presidential goals: "1) to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next ten years, compared to projections; and 2) to continue to advance the development of advanced energy technologies that cost effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially basic research targeting scientific and technical breakthroughs in such areas as zero carbon emissions coal and carbon sequestration processes, nuclear energy, energy storage, solar energy, and hydrogen fuel cell technologies."
In a section entitled "Environment" the Administration's
focus is on climate change, ocean science, water availability and
Earth observations. All of these issues require strong support for
geosciences research and development and geoscientific expertise.
Agencies are directed to align their R&D budgets based on the
following government reports related to these four issues:
full memorandum is available as a PDF file from the White House.
On August 2, Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) along with Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), David Davis (R-TN) and Nick Lampson (D-TX) introduced a bill entitled "Improving Mathematics and Science Teacher Quality Act" (H.R. 3313). The measure would focus on improving elementary and secondary school education in math and science by directing the two Math and Science Partnerships (MSPs) at the Education Department and the National Science Foundation to cooperate more fully. The aim is to see effective programs developed at NSF implemented more widely at the Department of Education.
text of the bill is available from Thomas.
The Senate returned from the August recess and confirmed Jim Nussle
as the new Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by
a vote of 69 to 24 on September 4. Several key Democrats voted against
Nussle including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Appropriations
Committee Chair Robert Byrd (D-WV), Senate Budget Committee Chair
Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Richard
Durbin (D-IL). The opposition was meant to send a signal to President
Bush that his threat to veto several appropriation bills was inappropriate
and politically motivated. In an E&E Daily news story, Senator
Harry Reid is quoted as saying "After years of rubber-stamping
Republican appropriations bills that exceeded his own requests by
billions, the president is choosing to pick a purely political fight
over less than 1 percent of the budget," Reid said yesterday
before the vote. "Voting against confirming Congressman Jim Nussle
as OMB director will send a clear signal of my opposition to this
reckless fiscal policy."
Congress returns from its August recess on September 4 and among its geosciences-related priorities are appropriation bills. The House has completed work on all 12 appropriation bills and awaits the completion of 11 bills in the Senate. The Senate has only completed work on the Homeland Security appropriation bill. Congress will have less than a month to complete the Senate bills, conference on the bills and vote on the compromise measures before the start of fiscal year 2008 on October 1, 2007.
Unfortunately the difference between the congressional appropriations and the President's request, which stands at about $22 billion or less than one percent of the total $2.9 trillion budget for fiscal year 2008, will be a major sticking point for decision makers. Based on statements made by the Administration and Congress over the past few months, this difference is likely to hold up the appropriations process, stall individual bills, force continuing resolutions in October and possibly lead to a harried and hurried omnibus as fall turns to winter.
The National Science Foundation and the Office of Science at the
Department of Energy are slated for relatively large increases, while
NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey are slated for more modest
increases in fiscal year 2008. Delaying appropriations will hurt government
agencies, especially those that fund research and development in the
geosciences by delaying or eliminating these increases and stopping
any new initiatives. Programs will have to be postponed, reduced or
terminated with little notice and ongoing research and development
will suffer significant setbacks beyond just the loss of adequate
of all appropriations bills is available from Thomas.
Besides appropriations, Congress has several other major bills to complete in the near term. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a $21 billion measure that would fund more than 900 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood and environmental control projects throughout the country. The measure includes funds for flood protection in New Orleans, coastal restoration along the Gulf Coast and flood protection in the Sacramento delta. Such a bill is usually authorized every two years; however, Congress has been unable to pass WRDA since 2000, which means that extra costs are piling up in the current legislation because of the delay besides additional costs prompted by recent catastrophic events such as hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Senate expects to vote on this bill early in September and it is expected to pass. Senator Russ Feingold (D-MN) who was a proponent of the earlier version of the bill has retracted his support because a section of the bill which called for robust independent review of Corps projects has been weakened. President Bush is also opposed to this legislation because of its overall cost, which has ballooned from about $13 billion when the measure was first introduced in the 110th Congress in January to the current $21 billion price tag.
Congress will also deal with the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind education legislation. This measure is likely to receive more funding for pre-kindergarten to college education and include slightly more emphasis on science education and science teacher training. Science education was not part of the earlier educational reform initiatives and there is broad concern that the science curriculum is being reduced or eliminated in order to prepare students for standardized reading and math tests.
To begin the discussion the House Education and Labor Committee has
posted a discussion
draft for title I of the NCLB re-authorization bill on the committee
On August 16, 2007, President Bush signed an executive order calling
Federal agencies that have programs and activities
that have a measurable effect on public land management, outdoor recreation,
and wildlife management, including the Department of the Interior
and the Department of Agriculture, to facilitate the expansion and
enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species
and their habitat." Geoscientists involved with public land management
will need to consider a list of actions in this executive order and
geoscientists conducting field work on public lands will need to be
alert to hunting activities that are being initiated or enhanced.
On August 31, a federal judge blocked the Department of Energy (DOE)
from using water from nearby wells for cooling of drilling equipment
or for gathering soil samples at the Yucca Mountain waste repository
site. Judge Roger Hunt of the U.S. District Court for the District
of Nevada denied an emergency motion by Justice Department attorneys
to block Nevada state engineer Tracy Taylor's cease-and-desist order
asking scientists to stop taking water from the wells. Nevada has
complained about the federal government's increasing need for water,
which has risen from about 15 to 80 bore holes and from 300,000 gallons
to 3.5 million gallons of water. The judge wrote "there has been
no act by Congress which pre-empts Nevada's state water laws. ...
The only public interest issue is whether state officials can be precluded
from exercising their lawfully mandated duties, or whether a federal
agency can run roughshod over a state's rights or interests without
specific authority and mandate to do the precise activities it wishes
The Office of Surface Mining released a revised stream buffer zone rule in the August 24 edition of the federal register. The original 1983 rule forbid mining within 100 feet of a stream or a river and the revision will allow mountain top and underground mining near streams and rivers and in particular allow the disposal of mine waste into river and stream valleys. Since the introduction of the 1983 rule, many states have used rather liberal interpretations and allowed mining close to streams and rivers, particularly in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. An environmental impact statement that accompanies the new rule indicates that between 1985 and 2001, about 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste and a similar length is expected to be lost by 2018. The liberal interpretations and continued mining has led to significant court action by environmental groups and others to stop the practice with limited success.
Now the government is stepping in to revise the rule to remove ambiguity, reduce litigation and essentially allow unrestricted mining in coal-rich regions, particularly in Appalachia where the process has been allowed for decades and other solutions for the disposal of mine waste are limited by the topography.
The revised rule will be open for public comment for 60 days and
information about the rule is available from the federal register.
The National Science Board (NSB) of the National Science Foundation
(NSF) released a draft action plan for improving science, technology,
engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in public schools on
August 8, 2007. The plan calls for Congress to create an independent
National Council for STEM Education, for the White House Office of
Science and Technology Policy to create a committee on STEM education
to coordinate all federal STEM education programs, for the Department
of Education to create a new Assistant Secretary to coordinate STEM
education activities and for the NSF to lead an effort to create a
roadmap to improve pre-kindergarten to college STEM education.
Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences
at Oregon State University who was scheduled to become the National
Science Foundation's (NSF) assistant director for the Geosciences
Directorate (GEO) in October, will not pursue the GEO position because
of conflict of interest concerns. Abbott will continue to serve on
the National Science Board and with NSF on issues of importance to
oceanic and atmospheric sciences. In an August 2nd press release,
NSF pledged to work rapidly to fill the GEO position.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service announced a new draft environmental impact statement for governing forest management in 193 million acres, which includes 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The new draft rule was developed in response to a federal court decision in 2005, which indicated that the Forest Service removed environmental protections without allowing for proper public comment or considering possible effects on endangered species in their 2005 rule.
The draft rule suggests 5 alternatives and the Forest Service is
seeking public comment on these options. The 5 possibilities include
the original 2005 rule, the Clinton-era planning rule that was challenged
by the timber industry and environmental groups, the Reagan-era planning
rule, a version of the 2005 rule without requirements for an environmental
management system (EMS), and a 2005 rule without requirements for
an EMS, with additional standards, with more direction about identifying
lands suitable for timber production and more timber management requirements.
The U.S. National Academy
of Sciences and the Global Health and Education Foundation are joining
more than 125 science, engineering, and medical academies around the
world to take action on the global drinking water crisis by launching
the Web site, "Safe Drinking Water Is Essential," www.drinking-water.org.
The American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) once again organized a successful Geology Consortium booth at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The American Geological Institute, the Association of American State Geologists (AASG), the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Geological Society of America all participated in the consortium. In addition the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) organized a booth at the conference.
Many state legislators, their staff and other conference attendees
stopped at the geology consortium booth to talk about geology in their
state and geosciences education. Historian and author, David McCullough,
gave a keynote lecture and noted that geology was his favorite class
in school, which made the geology consortium booth even more popular.
In addition to the booth, the conference featured an all-day energy
symposium and several sessions on natural resources and natural hazards.
Many of the invited speakers at the symposium and other sessions were
geoscientists and geotechnical engineers, who spoke on key issues
for the states and the nation. In many ways, the state legislators
are bringing forward innovative measures that require geoscientific
expertise that may eventually be adopted by the U.S. Congress in one
form or another. It is critical that geoscientists communicate with
local, state and national decision makers at these conferences and
in other venues.
Many of AGI's 44 Member Societies have position statements on a variety of issues. A full list is available from the Government Affairs web page
As member societies develop new statements or revise old statements they solicit the comments and suggestions of their members. Below are two member society announcements requesting comments on position statements.
The American Geophysical Union is in the midst of updating and revising
three of its position statements: teaching Earth science and evolution
in the classroom, human impacts on climate, and understanding natural
hazards and associated risks.
The Geological Society of America's Panel on Energy and Mineral Resources, operating under the auspices of the Geology and Public Policy Committee, requests comments and suggestions from GSA members, sections, associated and allied societies, and other interested parties, on a draft GSA Position Statement on Government's Role in Energy and Mineral Resources. Please send your comments and suggestions to Jon Price at email@example.com, preferably by 25 October 2007. The full text of the draft position statement is available as a link on the GSA main page
L'Oreal announce a call for applications for their 2008
fellowships for exceptional female post doctoral students. The
awards of $40,000 are given to five female post doctoral students
in the life and physical/material sciences, technology (including
computer science), engineering or mathematics.
AGI is seeking outstanding geosciences students and recent graduates
with a strong interest in federal science policy for a fourteen-week
geosciences and public policy internship in spring 2008. Interns will
gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the
operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone their
writing and web-publishing skills. Stipends for the spring and fall
interns are made possible through the generous support of American
Association of Petroleum Geologists. Applications must be postmarked
by October 15, 2007. For more information, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/internse.html
EPA - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water is
now undergoing a 90-day review and comment period for the Draft Federal
Geographic Data Committee's Wetland Mapping Standard. This document
provides wetland managers and others with information on what data
to collect when mapping wetlands that will be uploaded to the National
Wetland Inventory (NWI). To make a comment on the standard by November
9, 2007, please cite Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2007-0697 and send to
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.regulations.gov and follow
EPA - The Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Laboratory
Advisory Board (ELAB), will have teleconference meetings on September
19, 2007 at 1 p.m. ET; October 17, 2007 at 1 p.m. ET; November 21,
2007 at 1 p.m. ET; and December 19, 2007 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the
ideas and views presented at the previous ELAB meetings, as well as
new business. Written comments on laboratory accreditation issues
and/or environmental monitoring issues are encouraged and should be
sent to Ms. Lara P. Autry, DFO, U.S. EPA (E243-05), 109 T. W. Alexander
Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, faxed to (919) 541-4261,
or e-mailed to email@example.com.
DOC - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
will be holding a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Commercial
Remote Sensing (ACCRES) on September 20, 2007 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The
first part of this meeting will be closed to the public. The public
portion of the meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. For more information,
contact Kay Weston (Kay.Weston@noaa.gov), at (301) 713-2024 x205,
1335 East West Highway, Room 7313, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910 or
David Hasenauer (David.Hasenauer@noaa.gov) at (301) 713-2024 x207.
USDA - The Forest Service is proposing to move its National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures to the 36 Code of Federal
Regulations, part 220. In so doing, the Agency proposes to clarify
existing NEPA procedures and add new procedures to incorporate Council
on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance and to better align Agency
NEPA procedures with Agency decision processes. Comments concerning
this notice should be received by October 15, 2007 and should be sent
by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to 801-397-2601.
NRC - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is amending its spent
fuel storage cask regulations by revising the Transnuclear, Inc. TN-68
dry storage cask system listing within the ``List of Approved Spent
Fuel Storage Casks.'' The amendment will modify the Certificate of
Compliance (CoC) Number 1027 by increasing fuel burnup to 60 gigawatts-day/metric
ton of uranium, increasing total cask decay heat to 30 kilowatts,
increasing maximum average fuel enrichment to 4.7 weight percent uranium-235,
and decreasing minimum fuel assembly cooling time to 7 years. Amendment
No. 1 will also add up to eight damaged fuel assemblies as authorized
contents of the cask and reduce the cask spacing on the storage pad.
Submit comments at SECY@nrc.gov, (301) 415-1966, or by mailing them
to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC
DOE - The Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee
under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will be
holding a hearing on September 10, 2007 from 11am to 5pm and September
11, 2007 from 8am to 2:30pm. The purpose of the meetings is to provide
advice and guidance that promotes research and development leading
to the production of biobased fuels and biobased products. The public
is allowed to participate. The meetings will be held at the Westin
Detroit Metropolitan Airport, 2501 Worldgateway Place, Rooms 8 &
9, Detroit, MI 48242 and at the GM Renaisaance Center, 300 Renaissance
Center, Room 9/10, Detroit, MI, 48265, respectively. For more information
contact Valri Lightner at (202) 586-0937 or Michael Manella (email@example.com)
at (410) 997-7778 x217.
NSF - The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces the availability
for comment of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
(EIS)/Oversees EIS (OEIS) evaluating potential environmental impacts
associated with the NSF funding of the United States Implementing
Organization's (USIO) participation in the Integrated Ocean Drilling
Program (IODP). Electronic copies of the Draft Programmatic EIS may
be obtained from the Internet at http://joiserver.joiscience.org/Downloads/draft_peis
To make comments, or to receive assistance with the online copy, contact:
Dr. James Allen, Program Director, Ocean Drilling Program, Division
of Ocean Sciences, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard,
Suite 725, Arlington, VA 22230, call (703) 292-8581 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
COE - The Coastal Engineering Research Board (CERB) under the Army
Corps of Engineers will be holding a meeting on September 6-7, 2007
largely addressing systems approaches to flood risk management. The
meeting will be held from 8am to 5pm on September 6th, and 8am to
11am on September 7th at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town, 1767 King
Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For inquiries or to notify intent to
attend the meeting contact Colonel Richard B. Jenkins,
EPA - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research
and Development (ORD) is announcing a meeting of the Board of Scientific
Counselors (BOSC) Technology for Sustainability Subcommittee. The
teleconference will be held on Thursday, September 6, 2007 from 3
to 5pm ET. For more information contact Clois Slocum, USEPA, 26 W.
Martin Luther King Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45268 via phone at (513)
569-7281, fax at (513) 569-7549 or email at email@example.com
USGS - The U.S. Geological Survey announces the Scientific Earthquake
Studies Advisory Committee (SESC) will hold its 16th meeting on September
5, 2007 from 8:30am to 5pm at the Paso Robles Inn, 1103 Spring Street,
Paso Robles, California 93446. The Committee will receive updates
and provide guidance on Earthquake Hazards Program activities and
the status of teams supported by the Program, as well as a report
from the Advanced National Seismic System steering committee. For
more information, contact Dr. William S. Leith, U.S. Geological Survey,
MS 905, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Virginia 20192, (703)
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs
portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org/gap
since the last monthly update:
Asbestos Policy (8-20-07)
Sources: New York Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, Greenwire, E&E Daily, Library of Congress, White House Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey, Government Accountability Office, and National Science Foundation
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted September 5, 2007.