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Monthly Review: August 2010


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

***Administration News and Updates***

  1. Administration Reports on Impact of Science Stimulus
  2. Update on Oil Spill: Damage Assessment and Research

***Congressional News and Updates***

  1. Senators Introduce Bill to Create National Endowment for the Oceans

***Federal Agency News and Updates***

  1. Council on Environmental Quality Releases Report on MMS NEPA Program
  2. Department of the Interior to Restrict Exclusions for Offshore
  3. EPA Releases Draft on Clean Water Strategy – Comments Requested
  4. EPA Proposes Coal Ash Disposal Regulations – Comments Requested
  5. Task Force Gives EPA Recommendations on Carbon Capture
  6. Reorganization of USGS Management and Budget Structure
  7. USGS Expands Social Media
  8. East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students

***Other News and Updates***

  1. InterAcademy Recommends Reform of IPCC; Pachauri and Mann Cleared
  2. AGI Spring Internship Opportunity
  3. Key Reports and Publications
  4. Key Federal Register Notices

 1. Administration Reports on Impact of Science Stimulus

Vice President Joe Biden and the Executive Office of the President have released a report entitled “The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy through Innovation.” The report found that the Recovery Act’s $100 billion investment in science, technology, and innovation projects was successful in creating new jobs and accelerating significant advances in science and technology. According to the report, the U.S. is on track towards achieving four major breakthroughs as a result of the funding, including: 1. Cutting the cost of solar power in half by 201; 2. Cutting the cost of batteries for electric vehicles by 70% between 2009 and 2015; 3. Doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity and U.S. renewable manufacturing capacity by 2012; and 4. Lowering the cost of a personal human genome map to under $1,000 in five years.

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 2. Update on Oil Spill: Damage Assessment and Research

The April 20, 2010, BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been contained and now efforts are underway to try to remove the failed blowout preventer, insert a new blowout preventer and further seal the well with additional cementing through a relief well. While BP, its industry partners and the federal government carefully monitor and consider the next steps at the Macondo exploratory well site, activity and controversy are growing about research, assessment and response to the environmental consequences of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

The federal response is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. As per the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the responsible party for the damage, BP, participates in NRDA. Controversy has erupted over the disclosure of data and research collected by NRDA so far because any disclosure must be approved by NOAA and BP. This is difficult because of the inherent conflict between the government, which is seeking restoration funding from BP, and BP which is seeking to limit the company’s liability and contain costs. After an initial outcry about potential censorship, researchers are no longer being asked to sign confidentiality agreements and can publish results if they provide advanced notice.

NOAA promises to release all pre-assessment data before moving on to its injury-assessment phase and so far twenty three sampling plans have been posted on the NRDA web site. NOAA will post the other plans as soon as they are approved. NOAA has also organized a NOAA Science Missions & Data for Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill website that provides NRDA information as well as other NOAA science efforts and partnerships in the Gulf related to the oil spill.

Some other federal agencies with responsibilities and research activities related to the oil spill include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

In addition to NRDA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided about $10.2 million through rapid response grants and more grants for Gulf research are possible through NSF. The Unified Incident Command organized discussion sessions on subsurface oil sampling plans for academics who have not yet been part of the government or BP efforts for August 31 to September 2 at the University of South Florida, Northern Gulf Institute and Tulane University.

Academics have organized additional consortia in an effort to integrate and share research efforts. For example, many universities and state agencies in Florida have formed an Oil Spill Academic Task Force website and consortium to coordinate activities and to share information. Researchers have raised concerns about the government estimates of where the oil has gone and its impact on the environment as described in an oil spill budget report released on August 4.

Researchers have also raised concerns about their ability to conduct independent research, a lack of resources for research, a lack of access to government/industry data and a lack of access to different areas of the Gulf to collect observations and samples. A recent Op-ed in the New York Times, entitled A Gulf Science Blackout by entomologist, Linda Hooper-Biu, expresses some of these concerns. It should be noted that only a small number of scientists have publicly expressed a variety of concerns and their comments do not necessarily represent any consensus among the science community.

Industry has also been involved in conducting their own studies and in supporting the research efforts of non-industry scientists. In May, BP promised $500 million over ten years for Gulf of Mexico research. About $30 million has been distributed to Louisiana State University, the Northern Gulf Institute in Mississippi, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, and to establish an oversight panel of scientists to independently review project proposals. According to media reports, the remaining $470 million has been stalled by a June 16 White House fact sheet that called upon BP to “work with governors, and state and local environmental and health authorities to design the long-term monitoring program to assure the environmental and public health of the Gulf Region.” Reports suggest the independent review panel is being set aside and BP is being asked to provide funds for Gulf state programs on some formula basis rather than through competitive peer review. No administration official has commented on or confirmed these reports.

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

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 3. Senators Introduce Bill to Create National Endowment for the Oceans

The National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) Act of 2010 (S. 3641) was introduced in late July by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). The bill would create NEO in order to promote the protection and conservation of United States ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Funding for NEO would come from revenue generated from offshore oil and gas leasing (12.5%), revenues earned by offshore renewable energy (12.5%), interest from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund Investments, and fines from violators of federal law in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. These sources should generate about $1 billion annually. These funds would be overseen by the Secretary of Commerce, and would be used to fund grants to conserve, restore, and better understand the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources. This specifically means funding for research in climate change, hazards, ocean acidification, ocean modeling, and baseline data collection. The bill has been referred to the Senate committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation where it is awaiting further action.

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 4. Council on Environmental Quality Releases Report on MMS NEPA Program

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) held a press conference on August 16 about a report that reviewed the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) procedures following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The report found that MMS relied on the ‘tiering process’ for environmental reviews, in which prior reviews are incorporated into subsequent site-specific reviews. This ‘tiering’ can result in insufficient evaluation and disclosure of environmental impacts. CEQ gave the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) recommendations on how to promote more robust and transparent implementation of NEPA procedures for the future. BOEM has committed to using these recommendations as guideposts for further agency reform.

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 5. Department of the Interior to Restrict Exclusions for Offshore

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) Director Michael R. Bromwich announced on August 16  that the Department of the Interior (DOI) will undertake a comprehensive review of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process and the use of categorical exclusions for exploration and drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Categorical exclusions, as part of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, allow projects to not prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment and sidestep the NEPA process if the project would have “no significant effect on the quality of the human environment.” During the process of reviewing the NEPA process, the Department will restrict its use of categorical exclusions for offshore oil and gas development. “In light of the increasing levels of complexity and risk – and the consequent potential environmental impacts – associated with deepwater drilling, we are taking a fresh look at the NEPA process and the types of environmental reviews that should be required for offshore activity,” Secretary Salazar said in a DOI press release.

DOI also announced that it intends to conduct a new environmental analysis of the Gulf of Mexico that will help provide information to guide future leasing and development decisions.

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 6. EPA Releases Draft Report of Clean Water Strategy – Comments Requested

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its “Coming Together for Clean Water: EPA’s Strategy for Achieving Clean Water” report. The strategy report is designed to guide the agency’s actions with respect to its key priority of protecting America’s waters, and was developed at the Coming Together for Clean Water Conference in April. The report states that “EPA must improve and adapt regulations, permitting, and compliance/enforcement efforts as a key first step to change our current path.” The strategy report focuses on two thematic lines: 1) healthy watersheds and 2) sustainable communities.

EPA is soliciting public comments on the approaches outlined in the draft. Comments can be submitted here until September 17.

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 7. EPA Proposes Coal Ash Disposal Regulations – Comments Requested

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to regulate the disposal of coal combustion residues, otherwise known as coal ash, that are generated from the combustion of coal at electric utilities with the proposed “Identification and Listing of Special Waste: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities.” These combustion products present environmental concerns because of potential groundwater contamination and structural failures at impoundments. The proposed rule would regulate coal ash disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The EPA will be conducting several public hearings on the proposed rule: in Dallas, TX on September 8, 2010; in Charlotte, NC on September 14, 2010; in Chicago, Illinois on September 16, 2010; in Pittsburgh, PA, on September 21, 2010; and in Louisville, KY, on September 28, 2010. Additional information on the hearings can be found on the EPA website.

Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted here before November 19, 2010.

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 8. Task Force Gives EPA Recommendations on Carbon Capture

On August 12, the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage delivered a series of recommendations to the President on overcoming any barriers to widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) within ten years. Specifically, the government would like to see five to ten commercial demonstration projects online by 2016. The report found that there are no insurmountable technological, legal, institutional or other barriers to CCS development, but deployment will not occur until policy is developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The task force recommended the establishment of a roundtable, increased coordination in applying drivers and incentives for CCS development, completion and implementation of CCS regulations, efforts to improve long-term liability and stewardship frameworks and enhancing public awareness of CCS.

More information is available at the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage website.

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 9. Reorganization of USGS Management and Budget Structure

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced that it will be realigning its management and budget structure in order to enhance the interdisciplinary focus of its science programs as outlined in the "Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges–U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007–2017" report. This realignment will help remove barriers to USGS scientist collaboration across programs. The two major organizational changes will include the dissolution of the Regional Directors management layer and the reorganization of the Associate Directorates. Traditionally, Associate Directors have headed programs grouped under the disciplines of geology, biology, geography, hydrology, and, most recently, geospatial information. These programs will be replaced by fields that cover climate change, water resources, natural hazards, energy and minerals, ecosystems, and data integration programs. An Office of Science Quality and Integrity will be created as part of the changes to ensure continued high standards of USGS science. The realignment will not alter congressionally funded programs - these programs will remain intact and will be located within one of the six new Science Strategy Associate Directorates. Implementation will begin in fiscal year 2011.

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 10. USGS Expands Social Media

In an effort to reach more people and provide timely information on pressing issues such as natural hazards, climate change, water availability, energy, and mineral resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has expanded its social media campaign. The USGS has multiple twitter feeds, each pertaining to a certain issues, including the Twitter Earthquake Detector (TED) (@USGSted) which tracks Twitter responses to earthquakes. The USGS also offers RSS feeds and has a dedicated YouTube site. Visit the social media page for links and more information.

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 11. East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students

The National Science Foundation is accepting applications for its East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) for U.S. graduate students in science and engineering. The program provides first-hand research experiences in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore or Taiwan in the areas of science, science policy, and scientific infrastructure. Awardees receive a $5,000 stipend, a roundtrip airfare, and attend a pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. Additional support is provided to cover EAPSI fellows’ living expenses abroad during the period of the summer institutes. To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident enrolled in a research-oriented Master's or Ph.D. degree program in the United States (including joint degree programs). Applications are due November 10, 2010. For more information see the program solicitation.

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 12. InterAcademy Recommends Reform of IPCC; Pachauri and Mann Cleared

The InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world’s science academies charged with providing evidence-based advice to international bodies, has released a review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) management structure. The report found that while the process used by the IPCC has been successful overall, the panel needs to fundamentally reform its management structure.

As climate assessments grow increasingly more complex and public scrutiny grows, the IPCC structure will need to be able to respond. The IAC report recommends the creation of a communications strategy in order to emphasize transparency and allow for rapid responses to crises. The report also recommends that the IPCC establish an executive committee and an executive director in order to act on the IPCC’s behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. The IAC report examined the IPCC’s review process, and concluded that the process is thorough but stronger enforcement of existing procedures could help minimize errors. The IAC also called for more consistency in how the working groups within the IPCC characterize uncertainty, and recommended that future reports use a probability scale of likelihood.

Simultaneous to the release of the IAC report, the London Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that an independent review by KPMG has cleared Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, of allegations that he personally profited from his position. The Sunday Telegraph, another British newspaper, reported in December 2009 that Pachauri was “making a fortune from his links with ‘carbon trading’ companies.” The Sunday Telegraph has removed the December article from their website and apologized to Pachauri following the independent audit of his personal finances.

The Virginia State Attorney General's administrative subpeonas for the records of researcher, Michael E. Mann, were turned away by Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. on August 31.The judge ruled that the attorney general failed to indicate what alleged wrongdoing the researcher is being charged with. Michael Mann is a climate scientist, who is well known for research in the early 1990s that shows a rise in global temperatures. The attorney general was seeking documents and information related to research grants that Mann received while a professor at the University of Virginia from 1999-2005. A news report in the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted the attorney general as suggesting he may file new subpoenas with the University of Virginia.

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 13. AGI Spring Internship Opportunity

Interested in coming to Washington, DC for a paid internship covering geosciences policy at the federal level? The American Geological Institute’s Government Affairs Program seeks outstanding geosciences students (masters or undergraduate) with a strong interest in federal science policy for fall, spring, and summer internships. 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. Interns receive a stipend through the generous support of the American Geological Institute and the American Institute of Professional Geologists Foundation or the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Apply by October 15 for the spring internship. For more information and how to apply go to: www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html

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 14. Key Reports and Publications

***Government Accountability Office***
Superfund: Interagency Agreements and Improved Project Management Needed to Achieve Cleanup Process at Key Defense Installations
Publication released July 15, 2010. The report found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) use different terms and metrics to report the cleanup progress of superfund sites. This has resulted in a variety of obstacles that have slowed the cleanup process. These delays are exacerbated by the DOD’s persistent failure to enter in to inter-agency agreements, and their continued failure to disclose contamination data to the EPA and the public. The Government Accountability Office recommends that the EPA and DOD identify options to provide a uniform method for reporting cleanup process and allow for transparency to Congress and the public, and offers the belief that the EPA needs additional authority to ensure timely cleanup of superfund sites.

Onshore Oil and Gas: BLM’s Management of Public Protests to Its Lease Sales Needs Improvement
Report released on July 30, 2010. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examines the extent to which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains and makes publicly available information related to protests of oil and gas lease sales, the extent to which parcels were protested and the nature of protests, and the effects of protests on BLM lease sale decisions. The report found that while BLM has taken steps to collect agency-wide data on protests, the data it collects and makes publicly available are limited. From 2007-2009, protesting groups included nongovernmental organizations representing environmental and hunting interests, state and local governments, businesses, and private individuals. The main reasons for protests included concerns over wildlife habitat, air and water quality, and loss of recreational or agricultural lands. GAO was unable to determine to what extent these protests played a role in BLM decision-making, though it did find that 91% of the time, BLM was unable to issue leases on protested parcels within the 60-day window of time specified in the Mineral Leasing Act.  Despite these delays, the report found that that protest activity did not significantly affect bid prices for leases. GAO recommends that BLM revisit the way it tracks protest information and improve the transparency of leasing decisions and the timelines of lease insurance. The Department of the Interior agreed with these recommendations.

***National Academy of Sciences***
Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles Released August 3, 2010. The book evaluates various technologies and methods that could improve the fuel economy of medium and heavy-duty vehicles and recommends approaches that federal agencies could use to regulate these vehicles' fuel consumption. Currently there are no fuel consumption standards for such vehicles, which account for about 26 percent of the transportation fuel used in the U.S. The book estimates the improvements that various technologies could achieve over the next decade in seven vehicle types.

Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill On Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop
Released August 10, 2010. The report summarizes the findings of a workshop whose purpose was to examine options for measuring the oil spill’s potential heath effects on different human populations. The report identifies seven major themes that emerge from the workshop: the complexity of assessing the effects on human health of oil spills and response activities; the many dimensions of human health; uncertainty in information about specific hazards related to effects of oil; importance in understanding the current state of knowledge; importance of community engagement in surveillance systems and research activities; importance of coordination between surveillance and monitoring systems; importance of long term surveillance in identifying health effects of oil spills. The workshop also offered suggestions to guide the development of a surveillance system.

Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the United States
Prepublication released August 11, 2010. In a coalbed methane (CBM) well, pumping water from the coalbed lowers naturally occurring water pressure that holds methane, facilitating the release of methane from the coal for extraction and use as an energy source. Water pumped from coalbeds during this process--CBM 'produced water'--is managed through some combination of treatment, disposal, storage, or use, subject to compliance with federal and state regulations. CBM produced water management can be challenging for regulatory agencies. The conclusions and recommendations identify gaps in data and information, potential beneficial uses of CBM produced water and associated costs, and challenges in the existing regulatory framework.

New Research Directions for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Released August 19, 2010. The report is a summary of findings of a 3-day workshop with the purpose of offering a research agenda for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for the next 15 years. The NGA sponsors research in five core areas: photogrammetry and geomatics, remote sensing and imagery sincere, geodesy and geophysics, cartographic science, and geographic information systems and geospatial analysis. Participants highlighted the increasing need for interdisciplinary research and education as the greatest future challenge for the NGA. 

The Ozone Depletion Phenomenon

Released August 26, 2010. This article describes the history and cause of the ozone hole. The National Academies adapted the article from a report written by Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland, one of the pioneering researchers in the field and part-winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize in chemistry.  The article also addresses how basic pioneering research often leads to practical results of immense social benefit.

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 15. Key Federal Register Notices

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

NRC- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans to conduct two public workshops in order to solicit public input on the development of a regulatory document that will form the basis for future rulemaking on spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities. The workshops are intended to solicit views of stakeholders whose interests may be affected by rulemaking for reprocessing facilities. The public workshops will be held in Rockville, Maryland on September 7-8, 2010 and in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the week of October 4, 2010. RSVP 10 days in advance to fxcameo@gmail.com, or email for further information. Written comments will also be accepted at http://www.regulations.gov, search for documents filed under Docket ID NRC-2010-0267. [Monday, August 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 147)]

White House- The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology are meeting in an open session on September 2, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Keck Center in Washington, DC. The council will hear presentations on information technology; discuss reports they are developing on the topics of advanced manufacturing; discuss science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and discuss the energy technology innovation system. To be considered as a public speaker at the meeting, register at http://whitehouse.gov/ostp/pcast. Written comments can be submitted to http://whitehouse.gov/ostp/pcast. [Thursday, August 5, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 150)]

USGS- The Federal Interagency Steering Committee on Multimedia Environmental Modeling is holding its annual meeting to discuss the latest developments in environmental modeling applications, tools and frameworks, as well as new operational initiatives for fiscal year 2011 among the participating agencies. The meeting will be held in Vicksburg, Mississippi on September 13-16. Contact pglynn@usgs.gov to attend or for further information. [Thursday, August 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 155)]

DOC- The Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction will meet on November 9 and 10 to receive information on National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP)’s earthquake related activities and to gather information for the 2011 Annual Report of the Effectiveness of the NEHRP Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazard Reduction. The meetings will be at the University of Memphis, TN, and are open to the public. For further information, contact jack.hayes@nist.gov. [Tuesday, August 17, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 158)]

EPA- The National Center for Environmental Assessment has released a draft document entitled “Climate Change Vulnerability and Assessment: Four Case Studies of Water Utility Practices,” and is seeking public comment. The report is a series of four case studies on water utilities and approaches they are taking to assess their climate change vulnerability. The intent of the report is to illustrate current methods of climate adaptation and risk management. The public comment period will end on October 7, 2010. Comments can be submitted electronically. For further information, contact the Office of Environmental Information Docket. [Monday, August 23, 2010 (Volume 76, Number 162)]

NSF- The National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering will be holding a public meeting on September 20 in Arlington, VA in order to discuss support for research, education and related activities involving U.S. science and engineering working within a global context. For more information, contact Robert E. Webber, (703) 292-7569. [Monday, August 30, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 167)]

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

Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, London Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, Chronicle of Higher Education, National Academies Press, Government Accountability Office, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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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. More information on these topcs can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at govt@agiweb.org or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.
TO SUBSCRIBE OR UNSUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG

Compiled August 31, 2010.

 

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