Monthly Review: August 2009


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

    ***Administration News and Updates***
    1. Nominations Update for State, DOI, DOE and EPA
    2. White House Memo on Science and Technology Priorities
    3. President’s Science Advisors Meet for First Time
    4. National Oceans Policy Task Force Hosts Public Meetings

    ***Congressional News and Updates***
    1. Congress Returns for a Busy Fall Schedule
    2. Status of Science Appropriations
    3. Senators Want Other Pollutants in Climate Change Bill
    4. House Committee Proposes Water Management Council
    5. Senate Bill to Revoke Mining Industry Tax Refund
    6. Committee Passes Algal Blooms Research Bill
    7. Algae-Based Biofuels Gain Congressional Favor
    8. Senate Committee Approves Geospatial Mapping Bill

    ***Federal Agency News and Updates***
    1. Petition Demands EPA Review of Climate Science
    2. Funds Announced for Energy Frontier Research Centers
    3. DOE Grants to Train Geologists
    4. Energy Department Request New Ideas for Programs
    5. Mountaintop Mining Rule Upheld
    6. DOI Fast Tracks Renewables on Public Land
    7. USGS Grants for Minerals Resource Research
    8. USGS Grants for Volcano Monitoring
    9. NSF Gives Stimulus Funds to EarthScope and MARGINS
    10. USGS Hosts Public Lectures at Headquarters

    ***Other News and Updates***
    1. IEA Warns Of "Oil Crunch" in Next 5 Years
    2. Geoengineering in News and Policy
    3. Welcome New Interns
    4. Key Reports and Publications
    5. Key Federal Register Notices
    6. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Nominations Update for State, DOI, DOE, and EPA

The Obama administration continues to fill-in with 6 more science and environment nominees confirmed in early August. Positions within the State Department, Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were filled.

Kerri-Ann Jones was confirmed as the assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs with the State Department. Jones has been the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation as well as serving in the White House Office of Science and Technology during the Clinton administration.

Robert Abbey was confirmed as director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within DOI. Abbey has eight years prior experience as the BLM Director for Nevada and is leaving his current post as a Western land and resource strategies consultant to return to BLM.

Wilma Lewis is the new DOI assistant secretary in charge of land and mineral management. Lewis will oversee the BLM, Minerals Management Service, and Office of Surface Mining. She has previously been serving as the DOI inspector general.

James Markowsky is the DOE assistant secretary for fossil energy. He is a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on America’s Energy Future, lending his expertise gained as an executive at American Electric Power Company, Inc.

Warren “Pete” Miller is the DOE assistant secretary for nuclear energy and director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. He is a research and administrative retiree from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Colin Scott Fulton is the EPA assistant administrator after serving as acting deputy administrator for almost a year. He has worked for the EPA since 1990 and prior to that served as an environmental prosecutor at the Justice Department.

2. White House Memo on Science and Technology Priorities

It has become a tradition for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to release a memo every summer about the Administration’s priorities in science and technology for the coming fiscal year. Keeping with that tradition, the Obama Administration released a memorandum on August 4, 2009 for the heads of the executive departments and agencies from the Director of Office Management and Budget, Peter Orszag and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren.

The priorities for fiscal year 2011 include applying science and technology to grow the economy; promoting innovative energy technologies to reduce dependence on imported energy and to mitigate the impacts of climate change; applying biomedical science and technology to promote health and reduce health care costs; and assuring the needed technologies for national security and non-proliferation.

The full memo can be viewed here.

3. President's Science Advisors Meet for First Time

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held its first meeting in Washington DC on August 6 and 7, 2009. The 21-member council is chaired by Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and was hosted by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren.

The first day was devoted to discussions about health care and energy and the environment, reflecting the priorities of the public, the Administration and the Congress. The energy and environment discussion included comments about climate change and science education, two issues that have become intricately tied to the nation’s future. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, provided an overview of his department and initiated an intriguing discussion about the need for the Energy Department to effectively develop transformative energy solutions through basic and applied research plus related technology development. Chu suggested that visionary basic research funding at the Energy Department is no longer available and that the applied research granting process is flawed. Chu asked PCAST to review the funding process at the Energy Department and offer the Administration guidance on ways to improve the process.

The second day was devoted to outlining the objectives of PCAST and discussing PCAST subcommittee reports. Of particular interest to the geosciences community are initiatives of the education, security and energy subcommittees. The STEM Education Subcommittee will pursue studies on ways to increase the number of science teachers, improve science curricula, initiate science standards, improve technology for science teaching and consider the increasingly important role of community colleges in higher education. The International Security Subcommittee will pursue studies of space debris hazards, issues related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and related issues for weapons labs and support for science within the Department of Homeland Security. The Energy and Environment Subcommittee will pursue studies in carbon offsets, climate observations, energy research and development and climate adaptation.

4. National Oceans Policy Task Force Hosts Public Meetings

The White House Interagency Oceans Policy Task Force kicked off its nationwide tour in Anchorage, AK on August 21. The task force was established by President Obama in June to develop recommendations for a national ocean policy that ensures protection, maintenance, and restoration of oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. As part of this process, the task force is holding public meetings over the next two months in various coastal and Great Lakes states.

The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is tasked with unifying 20 federal agencies and more than 140 laws that address ocean policy. By next month the group plans on releasing its recommendations, with a full framework for improved stewardship, and effective coastal and marine planning out by the end of the year for President Obama’s consideration. Two previous oceans commissions strongly recommended creating overarching ocean policy during the Bush administration, however, no significant progress was made within the Executive or Legislative branches toward a unifying policy.

5. Congress Returns for a Busy Fall Schedule

Congress will return from a long and tiring August recess next week. The issue of health care reform has overwhelmed policy matters and will likely require significant work in September. The passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the third longest serving senator and a key legislator on health care, education and other issues, creates a working gap and power vacuum that may affect progress on key bills. Massachusetts must hold a special election for a new senator which will take some time, so the Senate will once again have a vacant seat. The Democrats will lose a vote needed for the ever-elusive supermajority that they have never obtained in practice. Given the frail health of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the Democrats will likely be down by two votes for most of the fall leaving any measures that are split on partisan lines difficult to pass.

Beyond health care reform there are many other massive legislative efforts with far reaching implications for the nation that Congress will attempt to wrestle with this fall. Key measures of particular interest to the geosciences community include climate change and energy.

The House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) in June and the Senate is now working on the measure. The Senate did not favor large parts of the House bill, so they are working on crafting their own version of a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and the Finance Committee chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) are taking the lead and hope to meet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) September 28 deadline for a floor vote in the Senate. Both committees have tentatively planned public hearings for the week of September 14 and markups of the drafts for the week of September 21.

The House bill (H.R. 2454) calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade system and revisions to the Clean Air Act, but it also addresses the nation’s energy portfolio as a way toward emissions reductions. The measure contains sections related to energy efficiency and conservation, carbon capture and storage and the development and deployment of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The House Republicans countered with the American Energy Act (H.R. 2846). While the two bills have similar energy measures, the emphasis of the American Energy Act is on the creation of jobs while developing renewable, nuclear, and biomass energy sources, as well as producing more domestic oil and natural gas. The Republican bill does not have enough votes for passage, however, parts of it might be considered in other measures that are progressing.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has crafted a separate energy bill, which was approved by the full committee in June and now awaits a vote by the full Senate. The American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462) contains legislation to help improve energy efficiency, energy security and energy market information. Some contentious issues include greater access to offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a national renewable electricity standard and new federal electricity transmission siting authority. Details of the bill of particular interest to the geosciences community include measures for: clean energy technology development, energy innovation and workforce development, to increase domestic production and assessment of oil and natural gas, to increase production of renewable energy on public lands, to assess nuclear waste management and to understand and develop strategies regarding the energy-water nexus.

So the stage is now set for the Senate to finish their version of climate change legislation, try to schedule a vote on a climate change bill and consider a vote on the energy bill. The Senate could also consider combining the climate change and energy measures into one bill for a full Senate vote.

If and when the Senate completes their work on these measures, the legislation would be compared with the Waxman-Markey bill and differences would be hammered out between the House and Senate. Should a compromise bill emerge, then both chambers would need to vote on the final legislation before it could be sent to the President.

6. Status of Science Appropriations

Science Appropriations: Appropriations to fund federal government operations in fiscal year 2010 are supposed to be completed by October 1, 2009. The House has completed all twelve of their appropriations bills and the Senate has completed five out of twelve. The Senate Appropriations Committee has finished eleven out of twelve bills and only needs to craft a Defense appropriations bill. Although Congress is ahead of last year’s schedule for appropriations, it seems unlikely that they will be able to complete all of the bills by the deadline. To keep the government running, Congress may need to pass a continuing resolution that keeps funding at last year’s level.

Below is a summary of the status of appropriations for agencies of interest to the geosciences community:

National Science Foundation: The President requested an 8.5 percent increase for NSF. The House approved a smaller increase of 6.9 percent, while the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a slightly smaller increase of 6.6 percent. The full Senate has not yet voted on the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, but changes to NSF’s budget are not expected.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: The President requested a 5.1 percent increase, but the request does not include full support for a next generation space shuttle. A task force is reviewing the future of space shuttles and their recommendations, which are due soon, may affect funding requests for NASA. The House approved a smaller increase of 2.4 percent, while the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the President’s request for a 5.1 percent increase. The full Senate has not yet voted on the Commerce, Justice Science Appropriations bill and the NASA budget which is different between the two chambers and uncertain with regards to future shuttle operations may change.

U.S. Geological Survey: The President requested an increase of 5.2 percent. The House approved this increase and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a slightly higher increase of 5.8 percent. The full Senate has not yet voted on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Changes to the USGS budget are not expected given the similarities in the requests. The bill might get unexpectedly delayed if contentious issues from the energy and climate change debates, such as an offshore drilling moratorium, are placed into the appropriations legislation before the Senate vote or during conference committee.

Department of Energy: The President requested increases of 6.4 percent and 4 percent for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Science respectively. The President requested a decrease of 20.6 percent for the Office of Fossil Energy because no funding would be provided for the Clean Coal Power Initiative. The initiative received stimulus funding earlier. The President requested funding for some new initiatives including $280 million to establish eight Energy Innovation Hubs, $115 million for an Energy Education and Workforce Training Program (RE-ENERGYSE) and $10 million for the Advanced Energy Research Agency (ARPA-E). The Administration also proposed terminating the Yucca Mountain geologic nuclear waste repository project.

The House did not approve of most of the funding for these new initiatives and would provide about $1.5 billion less to the Department than the President’s request. The committee has also asked the Department to prepare a five-year budget plan for all projects that exceed $100 million. Overall the House would increase funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Science with some differences to the total amounts for different projects compared to the President’s request. The House did go along with terminating Yucca Mountain and provides only enough funding to complete the licensing process.

The Senate did not approve of most of the funding for new initiatives and would provide about $1 billion less to the Department than the President’s request. They requested a feasibility report for each type of renewable energy resource that the Department views as deployable by 2030. The Senate called for increases to the Offices of Fossil Energy and Nuclear Energy and decreases to the Office of Science relative to the President’s request and the House bill. The Senate would also terminate the Yucca Mountain project.

The House and the Senate have completed their versions of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, but given the significant differences, this measure will be revised in a conference committee.

More information on fiscal year 2010 appropriations is available from Thomas at: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app10.html

7. Senators Want Other Pollutants in Climate Change Bill

Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are pushing to limit more than carbon dioxide emissions in current climate change legislation. They are working with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to draft a bill that would cut mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides emissions as well. The air pollution bill would improve upon the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which has been reinstated after being discarded a year ago. The new bill would keep the CAIR standards through 2011, but starts implementing stricter emission standards in 2012. Carper has discussed his interest in including this legislation in the Waxman-Markey bill with Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who may be marking up the bill in the fall. 

The new standards would be in place from until 2014, and then reduced further through 2019. National sulfur dioxide emissions would be limited to 3.5 million tons per year through 2014 and then to 1.5 million tons per year through 2019. After 2019, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could lower the allowed emissions level as needed. The nitrous oxides emissions standards would be different depending on the region of the U.S. The Eastern states would have similar allowances as the CAIR program and would be called Zone 1, while 16 western states would form Zone 2. Zone 1 would be allowed emissions totaling 1.39 million tons from 2012 to 2014, 1.3 million tons through 2019, and then the EPA Administrator could again change the limit as reductions are needed. The emission standards for Zone 2 would start at 400,000 tons in 2012 and be reduced to 320,000 tons at the end of 2014. Limits on mercury emissions standards would only start in 2015 to reduce emissions by 90 percent. The air pollution bill would also change the cap and trade program under CAIR to an auction system for allowances directed by the EPA. 

8. House Committee Proposes Water Management Council

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is drafting a bill that would establish a Water Resources Management Council consisting of Cabinet level members and a director nominated by the President. The bill, called the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act, would establish regional watershed planning boards to work for a comprehensive water management infrastructure of all watersheds. The boards would develop five year plans for water use and conservation, and be comprised of members from stakeholders and local, state, and federal agencies. States could also create their own water planning boards or assist planning efforts through council grants of up to $1.5 million per year.

The bill is a response to the recent droughts in the Southeast and Southwest and flooding in the Midwest that have called into question the divided managerial structure of water resources. Currently, agencies at the local through the federal levels can have jurisdiction over different parts and aspects of the same watershed. Problems arise when water projects or demand for the water upstream affects the downstream supply. The legislation is an attempt to consolidate and coordinate water management so that regional effects from local management decisions can be taken into account. There are some doubts over the legislation, as stakeholders and state water managers are unsure what the specific goals of the council and planning boards are, but water experts agree that the current water management structure needs to be fixed.

9. Senate Bill to Revoke Mining Industry Tax Refund

The current federal tax code considers the removal of minerals to be a depreciation of a mine’s assets. This entitles mine owners to a tax refund. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have introduced a bill, S. 1570, to change that tax code classification, so that mine owners would not receive a tax break on the depreciating value of the mine. The senators argue that the mining companies are receiving double subsidies without providing any revenue to the federal government, such as a royalty, for using public lands.

The new bill could generate $50 million per year and half of that revenue would be directed to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund to help clean-up abandoned mines. Mining industry officials say the logic fails as it does not take into account the high costs of mineral development and refining. The policy will be bad for attracting future mining investment, especially combined with the expected cost increase from changes to the Mining Act of 1872 already proposed in Congress (S. 796 and H.R. 699).

See last month’s article on Mining Clean-up Regulations:
http://www.agiweb.org/gap/email/review0709.html#13

10. Committee Passes Algal Blooms Research Bill

To mediate the effects of the growing number of algal blooms and hypoxic events happening along the U.S. coasts, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee unanimously passed a research and mitigation bill (S. 952) on August 5. The bill would address algal blooms through research, forecasting, monitoring, and mitigation and control measures. The bill requires NOAA to implement a national program developed by a prescribed task force.

11. Algae-Based Biofuels Gain Congressional Favor

Interested in the benefits of algae as a biofuel, Representatives Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), and Harry Teague (D-NM) have introduced a bill (H.R. 3460) to include algae-based fuels in the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and cellulosic biofuels tax credit. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 currently limits corn-based ethanol production to 15 billion gallons a year by 2015 and has 21 billion gallons of renewable fuels coming from advanced biofuels, which includes cellulosic biofuels and biodiesel. However, there is no specific inclusion of algae-based biofuels. The Senate has not introduced any similar bills. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has called the RFS too restrictive and fellow New Mexico Senator Tom Udall (D) is a strong proponent of algae-based fuels, so companion legislation may come soon.

Congress’ interest is sparked by investment in algae-based biofuels by industry giants, small start-ups, and Native American tribes. This year, Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical announced investments in algae-based biofuels, and a frenzy of smaller companies have demonstration projects across the country. The Southern Ute tribe in Colorado is contributing about one third of the capital and free use of their natural gas rich land to partner with Solix Biofuels. Solix proposes using the waste streams from natural gas processing plants to grow algae for fuel. The growing algae trend will likely makes its way into the energy bill discussions this fall.

NY Times article on the Southern Ute tribe algae investment:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/business/energy-environment/17algae.html

12. Senate Committee Approves Geospatial Mapping Bill

The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed a bill to establish a comprehensive geospatial imagery mapping program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on August 5, 2009. The bill (S. 1078) was introduced by Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and John Voinovich (R-OH) in May. The program would work to disseminate imagery from satellites and airplanes for education, research, assessment, and monitoring purposes across the nation. It is based on the AmericaView project that started as a partnership between the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center and a consortium of ten Ohio universities that cooperatively expanded the use and distribution of satellite data and imagery. The EROS satellite data was given to these universities, who established the computer and network infrastructure to distribute the data to researchers and citizens.

AmericaView now has members in 35 states with programs dedicated to expanding access to satellite data. The bill would consolidate the state programs and the EROS Center to form the AmericaView program at the USGS. The program would benefit local, state, and federal agencies, industry, communities, and educational institutions by making national remote sensing data accessible and easy to use.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources is considering an identical bill (H.R. 2489) introduced by Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH). The House bill has not moved to the full committee yet and is behind the Senate bill.

13. Petition Demands EPA Review of Climate Science

On August 25, 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a 21-page petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting a public proceeding to independently judge the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health. Such a proceeding would be akin to a public trial of the scientific evidence for global warming and its potential effects on human health.

The petition may delay EPA efforts to finalize an endangerment finding it published in April 2009. The EPA proposes that atmospheric greenhouse gases (specifically carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride) endanger the public health and welfare. These gases are thus defined as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and should be restricted and monitored according to provisions in the Clean Air Act. Emissions of these gases for new motor vehicles would also be included as pollutants.

The key point being brought forth by the Chamber is relatively narrow, questioning only a specific finding and is summed up by the following statement written in the petition: “no issue should be more important in deciding whether to make an endangerment finding than the question of whether higher global temperatures will lead to higher death rates in the United States.” The Chamber points to the June 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Group report entitled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” which projects a smaller risk of fatalities in the U.S. in the winter because of a lower potential for people to suffer from hypothermia or accidents on ice.

According to an E&E Daily report, the EPA Deputy Press Secretary Brendan Gilfillan believes the petition has no basis because EPA based its proposed endangerment finding on “the soundest peer-reviewed science available, which overwhelmingly indicates that climate change presents a threat to human health and welfare.”

EPA is now considering the petition. If EPA denies the petition, the Chamber would have 60 days to challenge the decision. The Chamber of Commerce has indicated that it would file a lawsuit against any endangerment finding filed by the EPA.

The petition and the potential for further challenges mean that any endangerment findings issued by the EPA will undergo significant public scrutiny of the science behind the rulings. It also means that EPA will not be able to enact other new rules being proposed to limit emissions that are based on the endangerment finding.

Indeed one day after the Chamber’s petition was filed, the EPA and Department of Transportation announced that draft rules imposing the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards on vehicles was delivered to the White House.

14. Funds Announced for Energy Frontier Research Centers

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced on August 6 that $377 million will be used to establish 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). The new EFRCs are located within 31 universities, 12 national laboratories, 2 nonprofit organizations, and one corporate research center that were selected as part of an extensive merit-based review process. The objective of these centers is to facilitate and accelerate the U.S. transition to a clean energy economy by producing the necessary scientific breakthroughs.

The EFRCs will work on advances in renewable energy, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy. These centers are part of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s plan to spur innovation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Funding for these centers comes mostly from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but $100 million is from the DOE fiscal year 2009 budget.

15. DOE Grants to Train Geologists

The Energy Department awarded $8.5 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to seven projects to train geologists, engineers and other specialists in carbon capture and storage. The seven recipients include Seattle-based Environmental Outreach and Stewardship Alliance; the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; the Tulsa, OK based Petroleum Technology Transfer Council; the Norcross, GA based Southern States Energy Board; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Wyoming, Laramie; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The program will cover training, technology transfer and public outreach for 36 months and will be managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. As of August 21, 2009, DOE had made available $9.68 billion in stimulus funds and paid out $466.03 million. See Recovery.gov site for further details.

16. Energy Department Requests Ideas for New Programs

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a formal Request for Information (RFI) for future funding opportunities. The RFI requests public input on potential ARPA-E programmatic areas and opportunities to overcome technological roadblocks to the development of transformational technologies relevant to the ARPA-E mission. The information collected through this process will assist ARPA-E in developing new programs and funding opportunities.

With this RFI, ARPA-E is now reaching out to the public for input on specific programmatic energy technology areas that may be well-suited to provide transformational impacts on ARPA-E’s mission areas of reducing foreign energy imports; decreasing energy related emissions, including those of greenhouse gases; increasing energy efficiency across the U.S. economy, and ensuring that the U.S. maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.
 
Responses to the RFI are due to ARPA-E by September 25, 2009.

17. Mountaintop Mining Rule Upheld

The Obama administration’s attempt to revoke a mountaintop mining rule made at the end of the Bush administration was deemed in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. A federal judge ruled the federal agency did not follow the statutory procedures for repealing a previous ruling, such as providing advanced notice and a comment period.

The Bush administration rule expanded the 1983 buffer law requiring a 100 foot space between streams and mining operations to include all bodies of water. However, the rule exempted permanent spoil fills and coal-waste disposal facilities from the buffer law, allowing them to put waste materials into stream beds. After the court ruling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar indicated that the Department would work swiftly to prepare a new rule.

18. DOI Fast Tracks Renewables on Public Land

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is trying to quickly expand renewable energy development on federal lands by designating more than 670,000 acres for Solar Energy Study Areas. These study areas are located in six western states and will be evaluated for environmental impacts and resource suitability for utility-scale solar energy development. The study areas will be segregated from other mineral resource development to allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to complete the environmental reviews and establish acceptable development zones by the end of 2010. DOI hopes to have 13 commercial-scale solar plants under construction by the end of next year. DOI is also setting up new solar energy permitting offices to facilitate permitting for companies that have already applied for solar projects inside and outside of the study areas.

Large-scale solar energy projects may not move as quickly as DOI hopes, as concerns over the impacts arise. Environmental and conservation groups are worried that the large projects and the long transmission lines needed to connect the power plants to the urban areas will destroy endangered species’ habitats. Industry is also concerned about developing in the rain parched west, where getting water rights to cool their systems may be difficult. DOI does not have similar study zones planned for wind or geothermal.

19. USGS Grants for Mineral Research

In order to better understand and assess U.S. nonfuel mineral resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is awarding up to $250,000 in grants to fund mineral resource research through its Mineral Resources External Research Program. The program will award grants to universities, state agencies, tribal governments or organizations, and industry or other private sector organizations for the fiscal year 2010. Research must include data collection, compilation, and interpretation. Topics must address one of the program’s long-term goals. The program has outlined specific needs for proposals, including assessments of existing and potential mineral deposits, advanced modeling of mineral deposits, or environmental impacts of mineral deposits containing specific minerals or compounds. The research projects will help the USGS prepare for a new national mineral assessment that will begin in 2012. Interested researchers should apply from August 17 to September 29 through Grants.gov.

For more information, visit the Mineral Resource External Research Program site: http://minerals.usgs.gov/mrerp/2010MRERPnotification.html

20. USGS Grants for Volcano Monitoring

The U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) announced American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding for volcano monitoring grants. Grants are available for repair, replacement, or modernization of volcano monitoring and reporting capabilities. This includes equipment, field observations, sampling, geologic mapping, GIS-based hazard assessments, computer-based research, data archiving, and creation or preservation of jobs. Applications are due September 14, 2009 at 4pm EDT. All applications must be submitted through grants.gov, where the full announcement is also available.

21. NSF Gives Stimulus Funds to EarthScope and MARGINS

The National Science Foundation (NSF) divisions of Earth Science and Ocean Sciences each received $5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding for the EarthScope and MARGINS facilities. 31 scientists and NSF officials met in early July to develop recommendations for facility enhancement.

The report and several of the presentations made at the meeting are now available on the MARGINS site: http://www.nsf-margins.org/Cascadia/09meeting

22. USGS Hosts Public Lectures at Headquarters

USGS Hosts Public Lectures at Headquarters
As part of a the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monthly Public Lecture Series this summer, expert Dr. Tom Armstrong gave a informative lecture about the science behind Climate Change on August 5, 2009. On September 2 at the USGS headquarters Dr. Bruce Molnia spoke about the relationship between Alaska’s glaciers, climate, and sea level in a lecture called “Baked Alaska.” He showed his research of changes to these glaciers over time through a photographic record, emphasizing changes at the yearly, decadal and century timescales. The next lecture, “Out of Africa-Dust in the Wind,” will be on October 7, 2009 at USGS headquarters in Reston, VA.

23. IEA Warns Of "Oil Crunch" in Next 5 Years

The chief economist, Fatih Birol, of the International Energy Agency (IEA) declared that a devastating “oil crunch” will occur in the next five years because most of the major oil fields are past their peak production. Birol warned that global oil production will peak in 10 years, which is sooner than predicted because the decrease in oil production is occurring twice as fast as projected. Birol stated that oil prices will be higher because the supply will not increase with demand.

The comments were made on June 29, 2009 after the IEA released an update to its medium-term forecast for oil demand. The IEA is comprised of energy experts from its 28 member countries and conducts energy research as well as advises the 28 countries on energy policy. The organization focuses on the “Three E’s”, energy security, economic development, and environmental protection.

More details about the IEA’s medium-term oil forecast are available here.

24. Geoengineering in News and Policy

Geoengineering ideas come and go, but popularity is on the rise again as the public and the government look to ways to mitigate changes to the environment. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing geoengineering and the Obama Administration promises to consider geoengineering options. Additionally the new assistant secretary for science at the Department of Energy, Steven Koonin, was recently a leader of a climate-engineering study group, which published a report on “cloud whitening”.

The study group published their report, “Climate engineering responses to climate emergencies” through a new non-profit called Novim. The cloud whitening idea uses aerosols to reflect shortwave solar radiation back into space. The report cites the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, which cooled the planet, as an exemplary model. The idea is projected to cost somewhere between $8 and $30 billion depending on the method of implementation. Like some other geoengineering ideas, cloud whitening would seek to cool the planet without dealing directly with the underlying cause. There is little knowledge of the consequences and critics speculate that such an idea could lead to droughts and other negative side effects.

Novim, based in Santa Barbara, California, is a non-profit scientific corporation that convenes small collaborative groups of the world’s leading experts to identify and analyze scientific and technological issues of global importance. Its findings are published online and uploaded to scientific archives. Results will also be made available in the form of classroom study guides, videos and perspective summaries aimed at policy makers and the public in general.

25. Welcome New Interns

The Government Affairs Program welcomes two new interns: Joey Fiore as the AGI/AIPG summer intern and Mollie Pettit as the AGI/AAPG fall intern.

Coming from Boston, Joey has just completed work for B.S. degrees in geology and history from Northeastern University. During his time there, he helped conduct research on the red tide blooms in the Gulf of Maine during the 2006 fishery shutdowns, using core samples to determine population densities during the fall and then monitoring the bloom the following spring. Additionally, Joey served as Northeastern’s Student Body President and in the school’s production of Guys and Dolls. He is a regular columnist for The Professional Geologist, and has been involved with AIPG for several years. While in Washington this fall, Joey plans on studying, and working to improve, the way in which science is communicated to the public. This winter he is moving to California, where he will work for a year before pursuing graduate school.

Mollie just finished earning B.A. degrees in both geology and mathematics from West Virginia University. She has done geology internships the past two summers, first at Virginia Tech then at the University of Colorado. Although she most recently comes from WV, she lived in the Midwest for most of her life and is excited about living near a big city for once. Mollie has little experience with public policy and is looking forward to the knowledge and experience she will gain from this internship opportunity. Mollie plans to start graduate schools in the fall of 2010. 

26. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Service***
Greenhouse Gas Legislation: Summary and Analysis of H.R. 2454 as Passed by the House of Representatives
http://opencrs.com/document/R40643/
Released July 27, 2009. The report summarizes the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which establishes a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. The bill provides for significant investment in renewable technologies and energy efficiency improvements, while requiring the EPA to establish guidelines and strategy for commercialization of carbon capture and sequestration. 

Issues Regarding a National Land Parcel Database
http://opencrs.com/document/R40717/
Released July 22, 2009. A federal land parcel database will be established for all federal and Indian lands, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) serving as lead agency.  This will coordinate government efforts to centralize geographic information, to be utilized for disaster response efforts in addition to other applications.

Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2010
http://opencrs.com/document/R40710/
Released July 15, 2009. The President has requested a total of $147.6 billion in research and development (R&D) funding for FY2010, up $555 million from last year.  The Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture (DOA) will receive roughly 95% of R&D funding.

Disaster Relief Funding and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
http://opencrs.com/document/R40708/2009-07-15/
Released July 15, 2009. This report provides background information for the debate regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which is the source of funding for disaster response and recovery activities. The report highlights the main arguments regarding annual allocation to that fund: whether the fund should continue be supplemented when the need arises, or be expanded generally to allow greater capacity for response.  

FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program: Overview and Issues
http://opencrs.com/document/RL34537/
Released July 10, 2009. A bill to re-authorize and expand funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Pre-Disaster Mitigation program, which provides funds to prepare communities for disasters, has passed through the House of Representatives. The Administration’s budget seeks a risk-based allocation for said funds, to be appropriated by FEMA, rather than the competitive system prescribed by the bill. The program was set to expire on September 30th, 2009.  

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
Superfund: Litigation Has Decreased and EPA Needs Better Information on Site Cleanup and Cost Issues to Estimate Future Program Funding Requirements
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09656.pdf
Released July 15, 2009. As the number of Superfund sites added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List (NPL) and the number of Superfund cases going into litigation decrease, the gaps in data collected and reported by the EPA become more visible. It is recommended that the EPA aggregate and report information relevant to the extent of cleanup sites, responsible parties, and financial implications of cleanup and liability.

America Competes Act: NIST Applied Some Safeguards in Obtaining Expert Services, but Additional Direction from Congress is Needed
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09789.pdf
Released August 7, 2009. The report examines the effectiveness of and safeguards needed for funding provided by the America Competes Act to contract experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. These experts were contracted to conduct experiments, analyze data, and conduct peer review reports. The GAO recommends that Congress should determine procedures for contracting if it chooses to maintain funding for the program.

Small Business Innovation Research: Observations on Agencies' Data Collection and Eligibility Determination Efforts
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09956t.pdf
Released August 6, 2009. The Government Accountability Office has previously made recommendations on the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Innovation Research program, regarding the inability of its success to be quantified. This report highlights the areas in which the agency’s efforts are still lacking, specifically in data collection and website comprehensiveness.

Climate Change Policy: Preliminary Observations on Options for Distributing Emissions Allowances and Revenue under a Cap-and-Trade Program
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09950t.pdf
Released August 4, 3009. Allowances created within a cap-and-trade program for emitting carbon are to become an important economic factor, and the GAO is studying how best to allocate these allowances, and the resulting economic impact.

Teacher Quality: Sustained Coordination among Key Federal
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09593.pdf
Released July 6, 2009. In efforts to improve teacher quality in the United States, the GAO recommends that the Secretary of Education establish and implement a plan for long term coordination between departments to maximize the effectiveness of investment in teacher quality improvement.

***National Academies of Science (NAS)***
Frontiers in Soil Science Research: Report of a Workshop
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12666
Released August 26, 2009. The workshop identified emerging areas for research in soil science. Seven key questions are addressed here regarding the frontier of each soil science discipline, and the need for integration across the disciplines.

America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12091
Prepublication released August 17, 2009. This book details America’s options for an energy plan moving forward, including the potential for nuclear power, coal fired power generation, renewable energy, oil and natural gas, alternative transportation fuels, and energy efficiency projects. 

Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Interim Report
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12738
Prepublication released August 15, 2009.  This interim report summarizes the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s (NASA) Near Earth Object (NEO) detection program, and presents some of the issues associated with survey and detection. A final report will include recommendations to improve the program.

Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12702
Prepublication released August 11, 2009. This publication presents an overview of the NASA Advanced Concepts program, an independent “high entry” point for advanced concepts to complement those being developed in house at NASA.  This report gives a history of the program’s 9 years. 

Review of the St. Johns River Water Supply Impact Study: Report 1
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12733
Prepublication released August 6, 2009. This report discusses the results of a two year Water Supply Impact Study (WSIS) conducted on the St. Johns River watershed, an area experiencing intense population growth. The report also includes recommendations for Phase 2. 

27. Key Federal Register Notices

http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont09.html

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved six alternative methods for analyzing drinking water samples required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Starting on August 3, 2009, public water systems, laboratories, and primacy agencies may use these methods in addition to testing methods already established in existing regulations. This expedited approval under the Safe Drinking water Act provides more timely access to new measurement techniques and greater flexibility in the selection of analytical methods, thereby reducing monitoring costs while maintaining public health protection. For more information, visit www.regulations.gov (using docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2009-0345) or see the full federal register announcement.
[Monday, August 3 (Vol. 74, No. 147)]

NIST--The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invites and requests nomination of individuals to serve in its eight existing Federal Advisory Committees, including the Technology Innovation Program Advisory Board and the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction. Nominations for all committees will be accepted on an ongoing basis and will be considered as and when vacancies arise. Please submit nominations for each board to the correct person as listed in the announcement (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-18591.htm)
[Tuesday, August 4 (Vol. 74, No. 148)]

DOE--The Department of Energy (DOE) proposes to change part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 regarding collateral in its loan guarantee program. On October 23, 2007, DOE established the program that authorized the Secretary of Energy to make loan guarantees for projects that reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and employ new or significantly improved technologies. Through experience and information received from industry indicating the wide variety of ownership structures, DOE believes it is appropriate to consider changes to requirements of its first lien on all project assets. Comments on this proposed rule must be postmarked no later than September 8, 2009, to David G. Frantz, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585-0121 or sent by email: lgprogram@hq.doe.gov.
[Friday, August 7 (Vol. 74, No. 151)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency requests comments on its environmental evaluation for disposal of ocean dredged material in a proposed site offshore of Guam. Dredging is essential for maintaining safe navigation at port and naval and not all dredged materials can be used again or stockpiled for future use given costs, logistical constraints, and capacity of existing land disposal sites. There are two alternative locations for a permanent disposal site. Either location is environmentally suitable given depth and stability however the Northwest alternative is the preferred site. Please submit public comments on this draft environmental evaluation by Oct 6, 2009, to Mr. Allan Ota by fax: (415) 947-3537, or email: ota.allan@epa.gov. The draft can be obtained from the EPA website: http://www.epa.gov/region9/
[Friday, August 7 (Vol. 74, No. 151)]

MMS--The Minerals Management Service (MMS) extends the length of time that geophysical information submitted to MMS under a permit can be reprocessed before release. The rule gives up to 5 years of additional protection to those who own the permits for reprocessing vintage geophysical information. Without an extension, the data is subject to release by MMS 25 years after issuing the permit. The extension provides incentives to permittees and third parties to reprocess, market, or in other ways use geophysical information that may not otherwise be reprocessed without the extension. The extension does not apply to geological data or information. For more information contact David Zinzer, Geophysicist, Offshore Energy and Minerals Management, Resource Evaluation Division, at (703) 787-1628. This rule becomes effective on September 14, 2009.
[Thursday, August 13 (Vol. 74, No. 155)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces the availability of the expert peer review on the Renewable Fuel Standard Program Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Analysis. In this analysis, EPA examined the impacts of greenhouse gases associated with different types of renewable fuels. The independent peer review helps respond to stakeholder concerns and ensures that the Agency makes decisions based on the best science available. The proposed rule and the peer review are available at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/renewablefuels/index.htm. Submit your comments identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0161 online at: www.regulations.gov:, by email: a-and-r-docket@epa.gov. In addition, please mail a copy of your comments on the information collection provisions to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Attn: Desk Officer for EPA, 725 17th St., NW., Washington, DC 20503.
[Monday, August 17 (Vol. 74, No. 157)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks comments on additional approaches to analyzing data related to EPA's perchlorate regulatory determination. These additional comments are sought to ensure consideration of all the potential options for evaluating whether there is a meaningful opportunity for human health risk reduction of perchlorate through a national primary drinking water rule. EPA will make a final regulatory determination for perchlorate after considering comments and information provided. Comments must be received on or before September 18, 2009. Please submit comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2009-0297 online at      http://www.regulations.gov: or by mail to Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460.
[Wednesday, August 19 (Vol. 74, No. 159)]

NOAA--The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Ocean Service is amending Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program--FY 2010 Competitive List, which was originally announced in the Federal Register on January 2, 2009 (74 FR 82). The changes reflect requirements of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. As a result, the application period for proposals is re-opened to give time to adjust project proposals to comply with the changes, which are summarized in the full notice and more fully described in the full Federal Funding Opportunity Announcement for this competition. Apply online at Grants.gov or contact: Elaine Vaudreuil by phone: (301) 713-3155 ext 103, or email: Elaine.Vaudreuil@noaa.gov
[Wednesday, August 19 (Vol. 74, No. 159)]

NOAA--The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Ocean Service is soliciting public comments on the draft NOAA Ocean and Coastal Mapping Contracting Policy. Current NOAA policy and relevant legislation are available for review here: http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/ocs/hsrp/hsrp.htm. Written public comments should be submitted to Roger L. Parsons by September 9, 2009 by email: Roger.L.Parsons@noaa.gov; or fax: (301) 713-4019.
[Wednesday, August 19 (Vol. 74, No. 159)]

NSF--The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces its implementation of Section 7009 of the America COMPETES Act (42 U.S.C. 1862o-1). This section of the Act requires that “each institution that applies for financial assistance…describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project.”
[Thursday, August 20 (Vol. 74, No. 160)]

NASA--The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces that the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge is now open for registration. The Regolith Excavation Challenge promotes the development of new methods and technologies to excavate lunar regolith (lunar dirt). The unique physical properties of lunar regolith make excavation an extremely difficult technical challenge. To qualify to win a prize, teams must build tele-robotic and/or autonomously operating systems that will excavate simulated lunar regolith and deliver it to a collector. The 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge will be held at the NASA Research Park in Moffett Field, California, from October 17 to18, 2009. For more information, see: http://researchpark.arc.nasa.gov.
[Wednesday, August 26 (Vol. 74, No. 164)]

NOAA- The Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is seeking proposals to search, investigate, and document poorly-known and unknown areas of the ocean and Great Lakes, and to advance and disseminate knowledge of the ocean environment and its resources. Competitive proposals will be bold, innovative and interdisciplinary in their approach. OER anticipates a total of approximately $3,000,000 including costs for ship and submersible assets will be available. Only exploratory proposals will be funded. Completed pre-proposals are required for all categories and must be received by 5 p.m. (EDT) on October 8, 2009. A subsequent full proposal must be received on December 7, 2009. Email pre-proposals to OAR.OE.FAQ@noaa.gov or submitted through Grants.gov. Put your last name in the subject along with the words OE Pre-proposal. Call (301)734-1015 or email OAR.OE.FAQ@noaa.gov for more information.
[Thursday, August 27 (Vol. 74, No. 165)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new information regarding carbon sequestration, and requests corresponding comments. This is an update to the original “Federal Requirements under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program for Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Geologic Sequestration (GS) Wells” rule of 25 July 2008.  The update discusses comments from the previous publication, and presents alternatives to those regulations originally proposed. The EPA will hold a public hearing regarding these findings on September 17, 2009 in Chicago, IL. For further information, contact Mary Rose Bayer at the EPA by phone: (202) 564-1981 or e-mail: bayer.maryrose@epa.gov. Comments must be received on or before October 15, 2009.  Identify comments by Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2008-0390, and submit to www.regulations.gov.
[Monday, August 31 (Vol. 74, No. 167)]

28. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

·  Information on Federal Geoscience Agencies (8-07-09)
·  Hearings on Climate Change (8-07-09)
·  Hearings on Energy Policy (8-07-09)
·  Hearings on Natural Hazards (8-04-09)

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Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Rachel Potter, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Joey Fiore, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Mollie Pettit, 2009 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

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

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This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geosciences community that it serves.  Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <http://www.agiweb.org>. 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

Posted September 3, 2009.