Monthly Review: September 2003
This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.
Energy Conference Faces Contention, Delay
Senate Democrats scored an apparent victory in August when the Senate Republican leaders, eager to recess, replaced their version of comprehensive energy legislation with a version passed last year when Democrats held the majority. But that victory was short-lived. Since the first and only meeting of the House-Senate conference committee that is hammering out a final bill, Democrats have largely been excluded from the process. As drafts have been vetted by staff on both sides of the aisle, Republicans have taken control of the conference and negotiated each provision that will ultimately be presented to the full House and Senate. Since senators will spend October 6 - 10 in their districts followed by House members spending Columbus Day week with their constituents back home, the conference committee is not expected to resume work on the energy bill until October 20th at the earliest. Here is how things are beginning to shape up.
For a thorough history of the energy legislation, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html .
Continuing Resolution -- So that lawmakers can continue to debate the funding levels for various agencies past the date when the 2004 fiscal year (FY) begins on October 1st, last week Congress was forced to pass its first continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government operating at fiscal year (FY) 2003 levels, plus some supplemental spending, through Halloween. The CR allows federal agencies with budgets not yet approved by Congress to begin the new fiscal year at current levels. Earlier this year, Congress approved eight CRs before finally agreeing in February to a $396 billion omnibus package for FY 2003.
VA/HUD Appropriations -- The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2004 VA, HUD & Independent Agencies spending bill during a mark-up session on September 4th. The committee funded the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $5.585 billion, up $276 million from last year and $104 million above the budget request. The accompanying report (S. Rpt. 108-143) notes that "the Committee continues to be supportive of the pursuit of a doubling path for NSF funding. However, due to funding constraints, the Committee is not able to provide such funding at this time, but will continue to pursue these efforts in the future."
Within NSF, the Research and Related Activities account is slated to receive a total of $4.22 billion, a 4% increase. Within this account, the Geosciences Directorate is provided with $692 million, $5 million more than requested but the same level as FY 2003. The Office of Polar Programs is funded at $342 million, nearly $12 million over the request. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account totals $150 million, a slight increase over the FY 2003 funding level but almost $53 million less than the budget request. Earthscope is provided with $43.7 million, approximately $1.3 million less than requested. (It is our understanding that NSF revised the request, and the committee granted that amount.) The committee also provided $8 million to continue construction of the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) and $1.3 million for the South Pole Station modernization effort. As the Committee did not fund any "new starts" for FY04, there is no funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) or International Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), both of which were funded in the House bill. NSF's Education and Human Resources activities are funded at $976 million, an increase of $73 million above last year's level and $38 million above the budget request figure. Within that total, the Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) program would receive $145 million for MSP, $55 million short of the budget request of $200 million, but $18 million above existing funding.
In other of the bill's provisions, the Committee correctly noted that NASA is at a "crossroad in history." They provide NASA a total appropriation of $15.3 billion in FY2004, which is level with last year's funding and $130 million below the president's request. As the House Science Committee wraps up its investigation into the tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia, the House and Senate conferees will most certainly make changes to NASA's funding level in conference to reflect new or different priorities. In funding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Committee allocates $8.18 billion, which is $552 million above the budget request and $105 million above last year's allocation. This bill, along with five others, is waiting to be passed by the full Senate sometime in October. For a more detailed account of the Senate's allocations for the VA/HUD bill, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_vahud.html#senate .
Interior Appropriations -- The Senate finally passed
its version of the FY 2004 Interior & Related Agencies spending
bill on September 23rd, two months after the bill passed the Appropriations
Committee. Part of the hold-up has been a contentious provision proposed
by Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) to add language to the Senate
bill that would prohibit the use of funds for new competitive sourcing
studies in the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service.
Although Reid's amendment failed, that will not be the last of this
debate. The House included language similar to that proposed by Reid
when it passed the Interior bill this summer. The House and Senate
will have to reach an agreement on this language when they meet to
hammer out the differences between their bills. They will also have
to consider the administration's position on this language -- the
President has threatened to veto any bill barring competitive sourcing
studies. The conference must also reach compromises on funding for
the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy
Research and Development program, the Bureau of Land Management, the
Minerals and Management Service, the National Park Service and the
Smithsonian, among other geoscience-related programs. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_interior.html
On September 30th, the USGS Coalition sent a joint letter signed
by 33 coalition organizations to members of the conference committee
for the Fiscal Year 2004 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations
bill. The letter thanks conferees for restoring proposed cuts in the
president's budget request, and encourages them to provide additional
support to "help USGS meet the tremendous need for science in
support of public policy decision-making." The conferees are
representatives and senators who sit on the House and Senate Appropriations
Subcommittees on Interior and Related Agencies as well as the chairman
and ranking member of the full appropriations committees. The conference
could start as early as October 8th with hopes of crafting a final
bill by the end of October. Copies of the letter are available at
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham was on hand at the 112th meeting
of the National Petroleum Council in Washington, DC on September 25th.
There, the Council presented, approved and released their report,
"Balancing Natural Gas Policy -- Fueling the Demands of a Growing
Economy." Penned by industry leaders and members of the Bush
administration, the report asserts that a "fundamental shift"
in the nation's gas supply-and-demand balance has led to price volatility
and the doubling of natural gas prices in the past two years. The
report recommends increased imports of liquefied natural gas, construction
of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline and allowing drilling in currently
protected coastal areas and federal lands, particularly in the Rocky
Mountains. Further, it recommends lifting moratoria and allowing gas
production off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Gulf of
Mexico near the Florida panhandle. Conservation and greater energy
efficiency were touted as possible near-term fixes to prevent prices
from skyrocketing. A complete draft of the Summary of Findings and
Recommendations is available at http://www.npc.org.
Print copies will be available in mid-October.
In response to the current natural gas issues, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) created the Task Force for Affordable Natural Gas, which is composed of 18 Republicans from the Energy and Commerce Committee and Resources Committee. The intended purpose of the task force is to report to the Speaker on the causes of the gas supply shortage and possible short-term solutions. On September 30th, the task force issued its final report, which found several shortcomings in U.S. policies that have led to tight supplies of gas. These include: lack of regulatory certainty and incentives to produce and transport gas on federal lands; lack of ability to identify potential natural gas resources using 21st-century technology; and difficulty in obtaining access to federal lands. The task force also recommended several solutions, including: conducting a natural gas resource inventory on federal lands; creating a federal office to coordinate permitting and environmental review of natural gas projects; facilitating cooperation among federal and state agencies and stakeholders on leasing and permitting for natural gas production and transportation projects; streamlining the permitting of natural gas projects on federal lands; and ensuring timely decisions on lease applications for gas production on federal lands, thus permitting requests for natural gas pipelines and production on federal lands.
In response to the report, House Speaker Hastert issued a statement calling on the task force members and chairmen to "continue working together to find environmentally responsible ways to increase domestic supplies of natural gas and promote fuel diversity." In response, one of the task force chairs, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA), told E & E Daily that this report was merely "stage one" in a process of monitoring how natural gas supply, production and demand relate to the use of other fuels that will continue through the next year. In other words, the Task Force lives on. Information about the Task Force, its members, and the report is available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/naturalgastaskforce/ .
State and local challenges to the teaching of evolution have been coming fast and thick this summer and fall. The AGI Government Affairs Program web site now features a map that highlights the affected states (which we're adding to at the rate of one or two per month) and has information on how geoscientists can get involved at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html . This month's developments include:
For commentary on the spate of anti-evolution flare-ups around the country, please see "Opposition to Evolution Takes Many Forms" in the September issue of Geotimes, online at http://www.geotimes.org/sept03/scene.html .
On September 23rd, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
held a confirmation hearing for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Administrator nominee Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (R). Remaining cordial
on Leavitt's background, Senate Democrats denounced President Bush's
environmental record even as Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK)
chastised them for using the hearing to attack the administration.
Leavitt remained noncommittal on EPA policy, instead focusing on his
skills as a "problem solver." Environmental groups are leery
about Leavitt's decentralized environmental approach, as evidenced
by the National Environmental Trust's web site sporting the slogan
"The Environment: Love It or Leavitt!" This discord underscored
the frustrations faced by any EPA administrator. Leavitt has already
encountered an obstacle in Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton (NY),
Joseph Lieberman (CT), John Kerry (MA) and John Edwards (NC), who
have vowed to procedurally block Leavitt's confirmation until the
White House answers a number of environmental questions. Republicans
could override the blocks by passing a motion of cloture, but this
would require 30-60 hours of floor debate, giving Senate Democrats
the opportunity to further scrutinize the White House's environmental
record and cluttering an already busy fall schedule. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/epa_admin.html
On September 9th, the Bush Administration indicated for the first
time that it would support the restructuring of EPA during a House
Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs
hearing on the elevation of EPA to departmental status. This fifth
hearing to date on the matter focused on two bills. H.R. 37 would
simply transform EPA into the Department of Environmental Protection
while H.R. 2138 would revamp it, creating three Offices (Policy, Planning
and Innovation; Science and Information; and Implementation, Compliance
and Enforcement), and establish a Bureau of Environmental Statistics
(BES) to collect and analyze environmental data. Acting EPA Administrator
Marianne Horinko and White House Council on Environmental Quality
Chairman James Connaughton, speaking on behalf of the Administration,
acknowledged that the new structure would be more manageable and well
coordinated. They also said that a BES would allow EPA initiatives
to be based upon more sound science -- a weakness for which EPA has
been criticized in the past. Subcommittee Ranking Member John Tierney
(D-MA), on the other hand, voiced concerns that EPA's "new"
mission as written in H.R. 2138 would limit EPA's jurisdiction and
that EPA elevation could become mired in a restructuring debate. Additional
misgivings arose about decreased public access to information and
a new set of coordination problems that might result from H.R. 2138.
More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/epa_science.html
While not quite in September, the House passed an important piece of geoscience legislation on October 1st: H.R. 2608, a bill to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. After a non-contentious debate, the House approved the measure by voice vote. The bill now goes over to the Senate for their consideration. When the Senate staff was briefed on the bill during the August recess, they indicated that a hearing would be held in late winter or early spring of next year. The Senate appears likely to develop its own version of the bill rather than adopting the House version. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/nehrp.html.
An amended Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), H.R. 2936, passed
through the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife
and Oceans on September 25th. One particularly relevant revision to
the act, which outlaws marine mammal capture or import, is a change
in the definition of the word harassment. Formerly denoting activities
that "injure" marine mammals, harassment would now include
any activity that "disturbs or is likely to disturb" them.
Research projects on oceanographic vessels have been nixed in the
past for potentially disturbing marine mammals with their high-powered
sound waves used in seismic surveys. Geotimes reported on one such
incident earlier this year (http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/jan03/NN_whales.html
Addressing this issue after the subcommittee meeting, Subcommittee
Chairman and bill sponsor Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) explained: "We
have worked hard to find balance, to maintain protections while providing
relief in certain areas to let much-needed research continue."
Subcommittee action on MMPA follows an unrelated federal court decision
earlier this month to protect marine mammals by limiting U.S. Navy
sonar use to "self defense, times of defense and in times of
war, combat or heightened threat conditions."
AGI encourages geoscientists to plan now to attend the 9th annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington on March 3-4, 2004. This event brings over 200 scientists and engineers to Capitol Hill to visit Members of Congress and their staff early in the congressional budget cycle in an effort to increase federal investment in science. AGI would like to see a strong contingent of geoscientists at this event. We especially encourage Member Society leaders to consider it. Attendees spend the first day receiving briefings from federal agency officials and congressional staff followed by a day of visits. As part of the first day, AGI and the American Geophysical Union organize a special briefing specifically on geoscience issues. In coming months, additional information will be available at http://www.setcvd.org .
For the past six years, the AGI Foundation has provided support for the AGI congressional science fellowship, making it possible for AGI to bring geoscience expertise to Capitol Hill in the most direct way possible: as congressional staff. Now the foundation is announcing the establishment of an endowment to ensure lasting support for the fellowship. The endowment honors William L. Fisher, the Leonidas T. Barrow Chair in the Department of Geosciences and Director of the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, Austin. It is a recognition of Bill Fisher's outstanding service to the nation, his home state of Texas and the geological profession. For three decades, as Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, Bill Fisher was the State Geologist of Texas. At the national level, Bill served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Energy and Minerals under President Ford. Over several administrations, he has been an advisor to the President, Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Interior, and he has chaired countless National Research Council committees and boards. Bill's record of government service is matched by his service to the geosciences, including the presidency of AGI and three of its member societies as well as key roles in many others. During his AGI presidential year, Bill had the vision to establish the Government Affairs Program, now in its eleventh year of serving as a voice for shared interests of the geoscience community in Washington.
At this time, just under $1.5 million has been raised thanks to a series of major donations, led by the late John A. Jackson who gave $500,000 to honor his friend. The AGI Foundation is seeking to raise over $2 million so that the endowment can fund one and possibly two fellows every year. The Fisher endowment is the first of its kind among all the many scientific and engineering societies that have supported fellows over the year.
For more on the fellowship, please see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/csf/
. An article on the endowment appears in the October 2003 issue of
Geotimes, available online at http://www.geotimes.org/oct03/scene.html.
Called "Eyes on Planet Earth: Monitoring our Changing World,"
this event gives students and citizens new opportunities to discover
Earth sciences and encourages stewardship of the Earth. It highlights
the important contributions that Earth and environmental sciences
make to society and engages the public in current scientific exploration.
AGI invites you to attend an event, visit a classroom or go on a field
trip! For more information on how you can participate, please visit
. Address any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At an awards ceremony on September 25th, AGI's Government Affairs Program was one of three recipients of the U.S. Geological Survey's 2003 John Wesley Powell Award, named for the Survey's second director. The Powell award recognizes individuals or organizations that have "made significant contributions to the advancement of the programs of the USGS."
AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students and recent graduates
with a strong interest in federal science policy for a twelve-week
geoscience and public policy internship in spring 2004. Interns will
gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the
operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their
writing and Web-publishing skills. AGI gratefully acknowledges support
from AAPG for the semester internships. Applications must be postmarked
by October 15, 2003. For more information, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html.
What follows is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Clean Air Act Advisory Committee (CAAAC) Meeting Notice. October 15, 2003: 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Open Session. Grove Park Inn Resort, 290 Macon Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina. Volume 68, Number 176 (11 September, 2003): p. 53607
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Advisory Committee for Regulatory Negotiation Concerning All Appropriate Inquiry Meeting Notice. October 14-15, 2003: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Open Session. EPA East Building, 1201 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460. Volume 68, Number 177 (12 September, 2003): p. 53687
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Science Advisory Board Staff Office; Ecological Processes and Effects Committee; Public Advisory Committee Meeting notice for Consultation on EPA's Strategy on Suspended and Bedded Sediments; Discussion of EPEC Activities in Fiscal Year 2004. October 2, 2003: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Open Session. Location to be announced at http://www.epa/sab. Volume 68, Number 177 (12 September, 2003): p. 53735-53736
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Notice and request for comments for Proposed Bulletin on Peer Review and Information Quality. Volume 68, Number 178 (15 September, 2003): p. 54023-54029
Department of Energy (DOE) Request for Comments on proposed new survey
Form EIA-913, ``Monthly and Annual Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Storage
National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering Notice of Meeting October 7, 2003, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. October 8, 2003, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Open Session. The National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA, Room 1235S. Volume 68, Number 183 (22 September, 2003): p. 55067
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Meeting Notice. Weeks of September 22, 29, October 6, 13, 20, 27, 2003 Open and Closed Sessions. Commissioners' Conference Room, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD. Volume 68, Number 186 (25 September, 2003): p. 55415-55416
Department of Energy (DOE) Notice of Availability of a Financial Assistance, "Support of Advanced Coal Research at U.S. Colleges and Universities." Volume 68, Number 187 (26 September, 2003): p. 55599-55604
Department of the Interior (DOI) Reopening of comment period on Federal Oil Valuation Proposed Rule. Volume 68, Number 187 (26 September, 2003): p. 55556-55557
Department of Energy (DOE) Request for comment on Proposed Form EIA-1605, ``Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases," (long form) and Form EIA-1605EZ, ``Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases," (short form). Volume 68, Number 190 (1 October, 2003): p. 56626-5662.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Monthly review prepared by Emily M. Lehr, Fall 2003 Geoscience Policy Intern Ashley M. Smith, and David Applegate.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily, Greenwire, Hearing Testimony,
The Salt Lake Tribune, The Washington Post, Minnesota State Department
of Education website, Dallas Morning News website, THOMAS legislative
database, House of Representatives website, Casper Star Tribune, the
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted October 2, 2003 Technical Correction: October 6, 2003