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Monthly Review: September 2008


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.

    1. Science Agencies Left Deflated as Senate Passes Continuing Resolution
    2. NASA Turns Fifty But Future Looks Iffy Even with Re-authorization
    3. No Child Left Inside Passes House
    4. National Sea Grant College Program Passed by Senate
    5. House Passes Great Lakes Compact, President Likely to Sign
    6. Senate Energy Summit Becomes the Last Stand on Energy Legislation
    7. Senate Runs Out of Time to Pass Public Lands Omnibus
    8. Congress Unable to Clean-up the Air Between States
    9. House Considers Fair Copyright for Research Papers
    10. House Concerned about Lack of Oversight in “Preventable” Oil Spills
    11. Yucca Mountain Proposal Enters Review Phase
    12. Lautenbacher Resigns as Head of NOAA
    13. National Academies Report Weighs in on Presidential Appointments
    14. Presidential Candidates Answer Science Debate 2008 Questions
    15. Experts Suggest New Polar Laws in Face of Change
    16. Draft of Texas Education Standards Strengthens Teaching of Evolution
    17. Louisiana School System Issues Guidelines for New Supplemental Education Law
    18. Reiss Resigns as Director of Education
    19. AGI Transition Document for New Federal Leadership
    20. AGI Leadership Forum Discusses Public-Private Partnerships
    21. First Annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day
    22. NRC Seeks Nominations for Earthquake Resiliency Committee
    23. National Academies S&T Policy Graduate Fellowship
    24. AGI and AAPG Welcome Fall Intern
    25. AGI Seeks Intern for Spring 2009
    26. Earth Science Week, October 12-18
    27. Key Reports and Publications
    28. Key Federal Register Notices
    29. Web Updates

1. Science Agencies Left Deflated as Senate Passes Continuing Resolution

On September 27th by a vote of 78-12, the Senate passed a continuing resolution, funding the majority of the government at fiscal year (FY) 2008 levels until March 6, 2009.  Senate action followed after the House passed the measure (H.R. 2638) on September 24th by a vote of 231-198. The continuing resolution package contains three FY 2009 spending bills – Defense funded at $488 billion, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs funded at $73 billion and Homeland Security funded at $40 billion - plus $23 billion in disaster relief funding.  The spending package also includes funding of $2.5 billion for the Pell Grant program, $75 billion for a domestic automakers and battery makers new technology loan program, and $5.1 billion for the low-income heating assistance program.

The continuation of FY 2008 spending levels for federal agencies which support the geosciences, means a significant decrease in real dollars for research relative to rising costs. There will be increasing competition for decreasing research funds, delays for some programs, deferments of new initiatives, uncertainties in budget planning, uncertainties in workforce levels (with potential layoffs) and fewer resources for education and training. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE-Office of Science), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were slated to receive healthy increases to their bottom-line research budgets in FY 2009 thanks to the passage of the America COMPETES Act in 2007. COMPETES authorizes a doubling of these budgets over 7 to 10 years. Unfortunately the lack of follow through in the appropriations process and the snowballing economic crisis of the past month make these increases untenable.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the eve of its 50th anniversary and expecting funding increases to carry-out core missions, will see a small decrease for a total budget of $17.1 billion. Although Congress passed and the President is expected to sign the NASA Re-authorization bill (H.R. 6063), NASA will not see any of the increases authorized in that measure any time soon, including the $20.2 billion budget proposed for FY 2009.

Additionally, the CR eliminates increases of tens of millions of dollars each for NSF, DOE-Office of Science and NASA that was provided in an emergency supplemental act approved in July. The flat budgets and the loss of the small emergency supplemental increases leaves federal science agencies extremely deflated, with small percentage cuts to their research portfolios and the need to re-organize their spending priorities. There is also a possibility of an across-the-board rescission to federal programs, if Congress needs to find funds to offset any emergency spending.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will maintain a flat budget, however the CR did include funding for the 2010 U.S. Census, so the Department of Commerce is less likely to raid other agencies such as NOAA to cover the U.S. Census shortfall. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) may weather the funding storm better than other science agencies because although the President requested a decrease in the survey’s budget from $1 billion in FY 2008 to $968 million in FY 2009, the CR means that the survey’s budget should hover close to $1 billion. The USGS may need to shift some funds for an unfunded civil servant pay increase in the CR.  

The USGS budget will remain within the now controversial Department of the Interior appropriations bill. The bill contains the moratorium on new offshore drilling and because Congress could not reach any agreement on the moratorium as gasoline prices were rising, they elected to stop the appropriation process dead in its tracks in the summer.  The CR removes the controversy for now by allowing the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling to lapse on October 1, 2008.  A separate ban on offshore drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s gulf shores remains in affect because the area was excluded in a separate law. It is unclear what the next Congress might do about offshore drilling and public statements from legislators on both sides of the issue suggest controversy ahead, which may stall appropriations for Interior and others in the future.

Basic research within the Department of Defense received a large increase of 12.9 percent for a total budget of $1.8 billion. The Department of Homeland Security received a 9.4 percent increase for its research budget for a total of $1.1 billion. These are the only major research budgets that will see any growth in FY 2009 under the current CR.

President Bush has indicated that he will sign the stopgap measure, funding the government past the end of his administration.  It is unclear how the next Congress will address spending for the remainder of FY 2009. While the next Congress and the next administration have the option to consider a different budget for FY 2009, the recent economic storm leaves any prediction on future appropriations very murky.

More details about the research budgets of specific science agencies in the CR is available from AAAS.

2. NASA Turns Fifty But Future Looks Iffy Even with Re-authorization

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began operations on October 1, 1958, almost exactly one year after the launch of Sputnik and about six months after the launch of Explorer 1. There were 21 manned flights, 6 Moon landings and the launch of Skylab with 3 manned visits in the first 20 years. Since then there have been 123 manned shuttle launches, the development of the International Space Station and multiple manned visits to the unfinished station.

In addition to the manned program, NASA has maintained a robust unmanned space exploration program that has mapped the details of the solar system and explored the universe beyond. There are currently 65 unmanned missions that NASA operates or cooperates with other space programs on and 21 new missions that are in the planning stages. The Hubble Space Telescope, the Voyager 1 and 2 missions and the various successful Mars landings are probably among the best known of the unmanned missions that have been focused beyond Earth observations. Observations of Earth from manned and unmanned missions have provided a wealth of understanding about the blue planet and have captivated the public.

NASA’s budget in 1958 was about $89 million (0.1 percent of the total federal budget that year) and in the 1960s, the heyday of the Apollo program, the government spent as much as 5.5 percent or $5.9 billion of the total annual federal budget on NASA. Over the past 38 years, NASA’s budget has ranged between 0.7 to 1 percent of the total federal budget.

At the end of September, Congress passed the NASA Re-authorization bill (H.R. 6063), which would authorize a FY 2009 budget of $20.2 billion for the agency (about 0.6 percent of the federal budget). Unfortunately the continuing resolution passed by Congress at about the same time means that NASA’s budget will decrease to $17.1 billion for FY 2009, a troubling number for an agency whose core missions are already under funded.

The President is expected to sign the NASA Re-authorization bill into law. The measure includes a plan for the continuation of Landsat and re-authorizes the Glory mission to examine the effects of aerosols and solar energy on Earth’s climate. Other provisions deal with lunar exploration, Earth science research, emergency response to near-Earth object threats and provisions for space shuttle flights as well as support from commercial launch and flight services.

For more on the history and highlights of NASA visit the NASA 50th anniversary web site.

3. No Child Left Inside Passes House

The House passed the No Child Left Inside Act (H.R.3036) on September 19, 2008. Sixty-eight Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the bill by a 293-109 vote, authorizing $14 million in funding through fiscal year 2009. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S.1981) but no action has been taken.
The No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act attempts to combat the recent trend for schools to forego environmental education in order to dedicate more time to subjects like reading and math, which are subject to high-stakes national testing. The NCLI Act provides funding for school systems that design plans to increase the environmental literacy of their students and teachers. The bill also establishes grant programs for professional development of teachers and for outdoor learning experiences for students.

In 2003, a National Science Foundation panel reported that “in the coming decades, the public will more frequently be called upon to understand complex environmental issues, assess risk, evaluate proposed environmental plans and understand how individual decisions affect the environment at local and global scales. Creating a scientifically informed citizenry requires a concerted, systemic approach to environmental education…” The NCLI Act is a critical part of that systemic approach.

Click here to learn more about the No Child Left Inside Coalition.

4. National Sea Grant College Program Passed by Senate

National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (H.R. 5618) was passed by the Senate on September 26, 2008, and has been sent to the President for his approval. The bill aims to provide grants and contracts to support education, research, training, and management of the oceans, coastal areas, and major lakes. The research programs cover a variety of themes from creating models of the oceans, to studying coastal hazards and ecosystems, to working on marine biotechnology. The Sea Grant Act was last reauthorized in 2002.

5. House Passes Great Lakes Compact, President Likely to Sign

The House passed the Great Lakes Compact, S. J. Res 45, by an overwhelming vote of 310-25, on September 23rd. The compact provides a framework for the protection and management of the Great Lakes ecosystem and addresses the major impetus for the compact - the threat of water diversion - by prohibiting the diversion of water outside the basin.  Together the Great Lakes are the largest body of freshwater in the world. Although the compact will protect these resources, some are concerned over a perceived loophole in the agreement. The compact allows the diversion of water for any container less than 5.7 gallons in size, allowing the bottled water industry to continue to take water from the lakes.

While the compact does not make any binding policies or require any commitments of funding from the involved parties, by signing the compact, each party “agrees to consider” the recommended actions of a special commission. The compact also includes provisions for “improved scientific understanding” of the water body, including the study of groundwater and the “development, transfer and application of science and research related to water conservation and water use efficiency.”

The Senate approved the legislation before the August recess and the President has indicated that he will sign the compact which was sent to the White House on September 25th.

6. Senate Energy Summit Becomes the Last Stand on Energy Legislation

The 110th Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December 2007. The law increases vehicle fuel efficiency standards and provides other conservation, efficiency and alternative energy provisions that legislators thought were missing from the previous major energy law, the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Throughout the second session of the 110th Congress in 2008, legislators discussed and introduced additional energy bills to address continuing energy issues. At first the energy bills were often discussed in relation to climate change legislation and Congress seem prepared to consider energy policy that dealt with climate change.

In the summer, oil prices skyrocketed and the focus switched to supply and demand issues and new offshore oil and gas drilling. A push to end the moratorium on new offshore drilling that is normally part of the Interior appropriations bill caused significant acrimony and shut down the appropriations process. On September 17, the House approved a bill (H.R. 6899) that would expand offshore drilling and incentives for alternative energy. Then a “gang of 10” senators proposed compromise legislation that would allow some more offshore drilling combined with more funding for alternative energy. The gang grew to a super gang of as many as 22 senators and seemed to be gaining momentum in early September.

With the support of Senate leadership, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an unusual all-day energy summit on September 12, 2008. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed their support for the summit and compromise legislation in their opening remarks. Afterwards, Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) led a bipartisan discussion between as many as 20 senators and two panels of witnesses.

There was consensus among the witnesses that a successful energy plan must be comprehensive. Suggested components included large scale modernization of the power grid, setting an economy-wide price for carbon, development of clean coal and carbon sequestration technologies, and energy-use revenue decoupling policies to make people more aware and conservative in their energy use. Panelists urged the U.S. to diversify energy sources, including geothermal and an expansion of nuclear power use. Many witnesses were particularly in favor of reducing energy demand through efficiency and thus reducing the amount of all energy resources needed in the future. Long-term planning and steady funding support for energy research and development (R&D) were consistently suggested to help the U.S. deal with our energy challenges and avoid recurring crises in the future. Ideas for practical “quick fixes” included imposing a 50 mile per hour speed limit on highways, smart metering, and education for small and medium-sized businesses about what they can do to save energy.

There was unanimous agreement among panelists that drilling will be an important facet of any energy solution. The world is 85-90 percent dependent on fossils fuels and one panelist explained that “eliminating those fuels any time soon is impossible as we currently have nothing to replace them at scale.” At the very least, drilling for oil in a selective and environmentally sound manner is important to support our transition to alternative energy sources and greater efficiency. Corporate leaders testified about the ability of the U.S. oil industry to respond to a demand for increased domestic production and about the needs of other industries in relation to possible future energy plans.

Although Senate Majority Leader Reid hoped the summit would lead to action in the Senate before the close of Congress, no bill has been introduced.

Click here for a more detailed summary of the energy summit.

Witness testimony and a webcast of the energy summit are available here.

7. Senate Runs Out of Time to Pass Public Lands Omnibus

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced a new bill on September 26th that combines 53 additional public land measures with a 96-bill omnibus. The new bill would create more wilderness areas and authorize studies of potential parks, protected rivers and historical landmarks. The new omnibus also includes the re-authorization of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program and the Fossil Preservation Act.
Unfortunately, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) announced his intentions to block the legislation, leaving the fate of the bill rather dire. Although Senator Bingaman thinks he has enough votes to override a Coburn hold, there is probably not enough time for the Senate to complete all of these procedures before adjournment.

The interest of Congress in narrowing the gender gap in the sciences has some concerned.  By looking at the university level, the studies are ignoring those who say the gender gap begins much earlier with fewer girls taking an interest in the subject during high school. Women in the sciences are worried that Title IX quota systems could hurt them and the sciences by enforcing old stereotypes that women are not capable scientists or by hindering merit-based research by focusing on meeting quotas.  Tierney concluded that the federal government is investigating a problem that may not exist instead of working to increase the funding levels for the sciences. Regardless of the use of Title IX in the sciences, encouraging under-represented populations to pursue science careers is a worthy goal.

8. Congress Unable to Clean-up the Air Between States

The House of Representatives was unable to complete work on a bill to revise the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). The rule, issued in 2005, allows EPA to deal with emissions from electric utilities in 28 states and D.C. through a cap and trade system.

In July 2008, the U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. told EPA it was wrong to use a cap-and-trade program to deal with air pollutants, rather than forcing emission reductions at all power plants. The court advised EPA against revising the program, saying, "No amount of tinkering with the rule or revising of the explanations will transform CAIR, as written, into an acceptable rule."

With no relevant legislation coming from Congress to resolve the issue, an unusual alliance of the Bush administration, industry and environmental groups have asked a federal appeals court to reconsider the circuit court’s decision. The petition (05-1244) was filed on September 24, 2008 by the state of North Carolina and others.

9. House Considers Fair Copyright for Research Papers

On September 9, 2008, Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (H.R. 6845), which ensures copyright protection for research articles published in scientific journals. Ten days later, the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill. The American Institute of Physics (AIP), FYI policy alerts provide a summary of the hearing and AIP concluded the future of this legislation is uncertain based on the hearing. With Congress busy with the financial crisis and an upcoming election, the bill is not likely to be considered further by the 110th Congress, but may provide a template for a new bill in the future.

Click here for summary of the hearing from AIP.

10. House Concerned about Lack of Oversight in “Preventable” Oil Spills

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and  Maritime Transportation, stated "We cannot have oil spills all over our waterways -- I'm sorry, we can do better than that.”  Cummings comments were in reference to poor oversight of the shipping industry by the U.S. Coast Guard, resulting in an oil spill near New Orleans in July. The July spill was the result of an unlicensed tugboat operator pulling a huge barge, who cut in front of an oil tanker. The Coast Guard has the authority to tighten and check license requirements, but it has not taken steps to do so.  Rear Admiral James Watson, director of prevention policy, guaranteed that the Coast Guard would publish a rulemaking notice by the end of 2009.  Congress has pledged to boost funding if it would assist in lowering the number of spills. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Response and Restoration, which is involved in cleanup efforts has experienced a 30 percent cut in funding since 2004, limiting its ability to act in response to multiple spills.

11. Yucca Mountain Proposal Enters Review Phase

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced on September 9, 2008 that it has deemed Department of Energy’s (DOE) license application for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain “sufficiently complete.” This is the go-ahead for a full technical review of the document. There is a three-year deadline for the review process with a possible one-year extension. The NRC warns that its ability to complete the review is contingent on receiving the adequate funding – an extra $40 million in the 2009 budget year – from Congress. There is no guarantee that the project will be approved.

The DOE predicts the Yucca Mountain repository could open by 2020 at the earliest. The United States’ nuclear waste, which is currently stored at 121 sites in 39 states around the country, would be consolidated at the Yucca Mountain site, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The proposal is highly controversial. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warned that Yucca Mountain is a “dangerous proposition” not only for Nevadans, but “for every community in the country that would have the waste transported through their cities and towns.”

In contrast, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman described the move to the review phase as “a significant step forward,” saying he is confident the NRC's review will confirm that the Yucca Mountain repository will safely store nuclear waste “in a manner that is most protective of human health and the environment.” He recognized that “the expansion of commercial nuclear power will be the key to providing the large amounts of emissions-free base load power we need, and the establishment of the Yucca Mountain repository is an important step toward enabling that expansion to occur."

12. Lautenbacher Resigns as Head of NOAA

Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced that he will resign effective October 31, 2008. Lautenbacher has served as Administrator for nearly seven years. NOAA Deputy Administrator William Brennan will become acting administrator.

For more information view the NOAA press release.

13. National Academies Report Weighs in on Presidential Appointments

The National Academies released a report entitled, “Science and Technology for America's Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration.”  The report offers guidance to the new administration on the selection of key science and technology advisors, identifying 80 positions that will be crucial for advice on a range of science issues from health care to energy. It urges members of the scientific community to serve in these positions, and offers specific recommendations to improve the appointment process, including acceleration of Senate confirmation, simplification of appointment procedures aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest, and increased input by scientific and professional societies to broaden the pool of potential candidates.

14. Presidential Candidates Answer Science Debate 2008 Questions

The science and engineering community, including the American Geological Institute, developed a list of 14 questions about science and technology and sent these questions to the presidential candidates. Republican Presidential Candidate, Senator John McCain and Democratic Presidential Candidate, Senator Barack Obama have both submitted answers to these questions. The questions address many geoscience-related issues and may be of interest to the community. AGU is also an organizational sponsor of Science Debate 2008. The questions and answers can be viewed at the Science Debate 2008 web site.

15. Experts Suggest New Polar Laws in Face of Change

On September 7, legal experts meet in Iceland to discuss the ability of current law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to address growing concerns in the Arctic region associated with the melting of sea ice. In a released statement experts said, “A new coordinated international set of rules to govern commercial and research activities in both of Earth’s polar regions is urgently needed to reflect new environmental realities and to temper pressure building on these highly fragile ecosystems.”

The Law of the Sea Convention covers a range of topics from fishing to resource development and territorial boundaries, but many experts feel the current regulatory framework is not clear enough to handle the expected increase in disputes as the Arctic would provide a convenient shipping channel between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  During the symposium, experts analyzed the capacity of the Law of the Sea Convention to address potential problems associated with increased economic activity in the Arctic, specifically, overfishing, pollution from heavier ship traffic and resource extraction, oil spills and the spread of invasive species in ballast water. Organizers anticipate that an agreed upon set of recommendations resulting from the conference, will be sent to governments, international organizations and other stakeholders by the end of the year.

Click here for more information on the Polar Law Symposium.

16. Draft of Texas Education Standards Strengthens Teaching of Evolution

Proposed drafts of state science education standards were released by the Texas Education Agency on September 22, 2008. The new science standards strengthen the teaching of evolution by eliminating language requiring students to be taught about the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. The Texas Education Agency will solicit public comment on and expert review of the draft standards before submitting a revised copy to the state board of education for its approval. Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman predicts the “public debate and approval will be contentious."

17. Louisiana School System Issues Guidelines for New Supplemental Education Law

The Louisiana Department of Education sent general guidelines to their public schools in August about how to deal with the new supplemental education law entitled “Louisiana Science Education Act”. The law allows teachers to bring in supplementary materials related to science. The law states: "The state... shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment... that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied, including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. (Section 1B)”

The city, parish or local school district is suppose to approve of the supplementary materials before they are used in any classes, but they have no guidelines about such materials. The letter is meant to provide some general advice until the department can formulate more formal guidelines through the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators. The letter states that “Religious theories cannot be advanced under the guise of critical thinking. Written materials or oral presentations that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind or that state that evolution is only a theory are prohibited.”

There is concern that this law is meant to challenge the teaching of evolution and science and to allow religious and other non-scientific materials to be brought in as supplements. The legislative language is similar to arguments and language prepared by the Discovery Institute, a private religious-based institution that promotes the teaching of religious concepts, such as intelligent design and creationism in public schools.

The legislation went from introduction to law in a few months and has caught the school system unprepared to deal with the requirements. Administrators and schools will now have to spend time and resources on developing guidelines for this unfunded mandate and will also have to deal with any lawsuits brought by any individuals about any supplementary materials that might be used.

There is concern that similar laws might be implemented in other states. Similar legislation has been introduced in Florida, Missouri, Michigan, South Carolina and Alabama already and other states may consider supplementary material bills in the future.

18. Reiss Resigns as Director of Education

Britain’s national academy of science, the Royal Society, announced the resignation of Michael Reiss as the director of education on September 16th. Reiss’s resignation followed press reports that he endorsed the teaching of creationism in a speech he gave to the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool the week before. 

During the speech Reiss said,My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science. I realized that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all. Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson.”

According to a statement released by the Royal Society,Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as director of education.”

19. AGI Transition Document for New Federal Leadership

The American Geological Institute in cooperation with our member societies has prepared a transition document for new, returning and transitioning federal leadership in the executive and legislative branches in the United States. With a new Administration entering the White House in January 2009 and with the nation and the world dealing with many compelling challenges where the geosciences can help, the geoscience community thought it was imperative to provide some guidance for decision makers at the federal level now and in the coming months.

The document, entitled “Critical Needs for the Twenty First Century: The Role of the Geosciences” was developed based on the input of AGI’s member societies and the 120,000 American geoscientists who are the members of these societies. The geoscience community defined the seven critical needs of the nation where the geosciences play a role. The needs include energy and climate change, water, waste disposal, natural hazards, infrastructure, raw materials and education and workforce. Based on these critical needs, the community suggested policy directions to help meet these needs.

The document is being distributed to decision makers, to geoscientists and to the public. With this document as a starting point, the geoscience community hopes our understanding, knowledge and training in Earth system processes can help the nation and the world address critical needs in the twenty first century.

Click here for a PDF version of the document.

20. AGI Leadership Forum Discusses Public-Private Partnerships

The American Geological Institute gathered the leaders of its 44 member societies for a forum in Washington DC on public-private partnerships. The objectives of the forum were to identify how the public and private sectors can work together to more effectively communicate their shared needs to decision makers; to advance research, education and technology goals; and to attract and train a cutting edge workforce for the challenges of the 21st century.
 
Three panels of speakers discussed the gaps between academe, private industry and government agencies and how geoscientists and the member societies might help fill the gaps and work together more effectively. Suggested approaches for academe, industry, government and geoscience societies include the actions listed below.

Academe should develop or change mentoring; work more closely with industry and government in teaching; and encourage students to develop communication and leadership skills. Industry should support geoscience education and research; transfer data/knowledge that is non-proprietary to academe and government; and show academe that there are multiple different geoscience professions and that industry is environmentally responsible. Government should support workshops and education about opportunities in all sectors; support incentives for teaching geoscience; and develop geoscience education standards. Societies should organize workshops and activities to bring the three sectors together; develop an inventory of best practices for collaborations; and involve other science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields beyond geoscience.

21. First Annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day

On September 9-10, 2008, the geoscience community gathered together for the first Geosciences Congressional Visits Day in Washington DC. More than 60 geoscientists from 26 different states conducted over 100 congressional visits with Members of Congress, congressional staff and congressional committees. Each geoscientist communicated a message about the importance of investing in geoscience R&D and geoscience education at the federal level. Each geoscientist also had the opportunity to explain their work and its value at a local, state, regional, national and/or international level.

The events were organized by the public policy staff of the American Geological Institute and several of our member societies including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the Geological Society of America, the Seismological Society of America and the Soils Science Society of America. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership also participated and helped to organize visits.

22. NRC Seeks Nominations for Earthquake Resiliency Committee

The National Research Council (NRC), Board on Earth Sciences in collaboration with the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, and the Disasters Roundtable, is seeking nominations for committee members for a new study entitled, “National Earthquake Resilience - Research, Implementation, and Outreach.”  Nominations are due October 17, 2008. 

The committee will develop a roadmap for earthquake hazard and risk reduction in the United States. Specifically the committee will host a national workshop focused on assessing basic and applied research, seismic monitoring, knowledge transfer, implementation, education, and outreach activities needed to achieve national earthquake resilience over a twenty year period; estimate program costs to implement the roadmap; and describe the future sustained activities, such as earthquake monitoring which should continue following the 20 year period.

The Board is seeking nominations for people with specific disciplinary expertise —earthquake engineering; emergency management; social science; economics; Earth sciences, as well as people with expertise that span  multiple disciplines.  Please send nominations to David Feary (dfeary@nas.edu) and Courtney Gibbs (cgibbs@nas.edu).

23. National Academies S&T Policy Graduate Fellowship

The National Academies is now accepting applications for the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology (S&T) Graduate Fellowship Program. The purpose of the program is to engage graduate science, engineering, medical, veterinary, business, public policy, and law students in the process that informs the creation of national policies involving science and engineering components.  Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are in the process of or those who have completed their research within the last 5 years are eligible to apply.  The application deadline for the winter program (January 12-April 3, 2009) is November 1. Click here for additional details about the program and information on how to apply.

24. AGI and AAPG Welcome Fall Intern

AGI and AAPG welcome Merilie Reynolds, the 2008 fall intern in the Government Affairs Program. Merilie has just finished earning a BA in geology from Smith College in Northampton, MA. Her field experiences during her time at Smith include monitoring stream water quality and quantity in a Costa Rican cloud forest and studying the geology of a copper-zinc deposit in rural Mexico. Both projects raised her awareness of how scientists can contribute to the social, economic, and political issues related to their research and she is excited to pursue that interest during her internship. Merilie grew up in rural Wisconsin and she is excited to take advantage of all the big city opportunities DC has to offer, including the thriving Ultimate Frisbee community.

25. AGI Seeks Intern for Spring 2009

AGI’s Government Affairs Program seeks outstanding geoscience undergraduate or Masters students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a semester-long internship. Representing the geoscience community in Washington D.C., the program actively works with Congress and federal agencies to foster sound public policy in areas that affect geoscientists, including water, energy, and mineral resources; geologic hazards; environmental protection; and federal funding for geoscience research and education.  Applications for the spring semester are due by October 15, 2008. Click here for more information about the internship, including how to apply.

26. Earth Science Week, October 12-18

Get your toolkits and participate in Earth Science Week, October 12-18. AGI leads Earth Science Week annually in cooperation with its sponsors and the geosciences community as a service to the public. Each year, community groups, educators, and interested citizens organize celebratory events. Earth Science Week is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, the AAPG Foundation, and many other geoscience organizations.

This year’s theme, “No Child Left Inside,” will focus the nation on learning about the earth sciences in their natural setting, outside. Schoolchildren across the nation will turn off the TV and step away from their computers to discover the rocks, soil, watersheds, and weather patterns in their community.

Click here to learn more about Earth Science Week and to order a toolkit.

27. Key Reports and Publications

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***

Climate Change: Federal Actions Will Greatly Affect the Viability of Carbon Capture and Storage As a Key Mitigation Option. September 30, 2008. In this report GAO examined (1) key economic, legal, regulatory, and technological barriers impeding commercial-scale deployment of CCS technology and (2) actions the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies are taking to overcome barriers to commercial-scale deployment of CCS technology.

NASA:  Agency Faces Challenges Defining Scope and Costs of Space Shuttle Transition and Retirement.  September 30, 2008. GAO assesses NASA’s plans and progress in transitioning and retiring the Space Shuttle Program’s facilities and equipment.

Nuclear Waste: Action Needed to Improve Accountability and Management of DOE's Major Cleanup Projects. September 26, 2008. In this report GAO examines the extent to which the cost and schedule for DOE’s major nuclear waste cleanup projects have changed and key reasons for changes, and  factors that may hinder DOE’s ability to effectively manage these projects.

Carbon Offsets: The U.S. Voluntary Market Is Growing, but Quality Assurance Poses Challenges for Market Participants. August 29, 2008. GAO examines the U.S. voluntary carbon offset market, the mechanisms for ensuring the credibility of offsets and including offsets in climate change mitigation policies.

***Congressional Research Service (CRS)***

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): Selected Regulatory and Legislative Issues. Posted September 30, 2008. The report provides background on the Safe Water Drinking Act, key issues in the 110th Congress which include infrastructure funding needs, related compliance issues, and concerns caused by detections of unregulated contaminants in drinking water, such as perchlorate and pharmaceuticals and legislative proposals to address those concerns.

FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program: Overview and Issues. Posted September 4, 2008. This report provides an overview of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and addresses Congressional concerns, including the approach for awarding grant funds, the eligibility of certain applicants, the eligibility of certain projects, the degree of commitment by state and local governments, and related questions.

Cooperative R&D: Federal Efforts to Promote Industrial Competitiveness. Posted September 17, 2008. This report describes the efforts of the government to support and promote cooperative research and development activities among industry, universities, and the federal R&D establishment designed to increase the competitiveness of American industry and to encourage the generation of new products, processes, and services.

China's Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigation Policies. Posted September 17, 2008. This background report describes Chinese GHG emissions and some of its mitigation efforts. It touches briefly on China's international cooperation.

The Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline: Status and Current Policy Issues
Posted September 17, 2008. This report provides a brief review of efforts to develop and construct a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, a status report on recent efforts to proceed, and an analysis of major relevant policy issues.

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***

Satellite Observations to Benefit Science and Society: Recommended Missions for the Next Decade 2008. The book explores each of the seventeen missions recommended in the Earth Science Decadal Survey in detail, identifying launch dates, responsible agencies, estimated cost, scientific and public benefits, and more.

28. Key Federal Register Notices

DOC- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces a 45-day public comment period for the draft report titled, “U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.2: Thresholds of Change in Ecosystems.”  After consideration of comments received on the draft report, a revised version along with the comments  received will be published on the CCSP web site. Comments must be received by October 17, 2008. The draft Synthesis and Assessment Product: 4.2 is posted on the CCSP Web site at:http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-2/default.php Comments must be submitted to:4.2-threshold@climatescience.gov
[Federal Register: September 2, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 170)]

DOC- The National Institute of Standards and Technology announces the U.S. Government's interest in the inventions listed in this notice are available for licensing in accordance with 35 U.S.C. 207 and 37 CFR Part 404 to achieve expeditious commercialization of results of federally funded research  and development.
[Federal Register: September 11, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 177)]

DOD- The Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was directed to revise the Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies (P&G) in Section 2031 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-114). This notice invites written comments on the proposed Principles by October 15, 2008. The proposed Principles can be found at: http://
www.usace.army.mil/cw/hot_topics/ht_2008/pandg_rev.htm
.
[Federal Register: September 12, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 178)]

EPA- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency invites all interested persons to nominate qualified individuals to serve a three-year term as members of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. The terms of five (5) members expire in December 2008. To maintain the representation required in the statute, nominees for the 2009 Council should represent State and local officials concerned with public water supply and public health protection (1 vacancy), the general public (2 vacancies) and interest groups (2 vacancies), with at least one of these vacancies representing small systems. Submit nominations via U.S. mail on or before October 19, 2008 to Veronica Blette, Designated Federal Officer, National Drinking Water Advisory Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (Mail Code 4601-M), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20460.
[Federal Register: September 15, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 179)]

NRC- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined that DOE has submitted “Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Wastes in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada,” in accord with 10 CFR Part 2, “Rules of Practice for Domestic Licensing Proceedings and Issuance of Orders,” and 10 CFR Part 63, and therefore can be accepted for docketing and review. The NRC will perform a detailed technical review of the license application to determine whether to authorize construction of a geologic repository.
[Federal Register: September 15, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 179)]

NASA- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announces a meeting of the Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) on Monday, October 6, 2008, and Tuesday, October 7, 2008. The meeting will be held for the purpose of soliciting from the scientific community and others scientific and technical information relevant to program planning.
[Federal Register: September 16, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 180)]

DOE- The Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy announces a meeting of the Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee on Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Houston North Greenspoint, 425 North Sam Houston Parkway, Houston, TX 77067. For more information contact: Elena Melchert, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Oil and Natural Gas, Washington, DC 20585. Phone: 202-586-5600.
[Federal Register: September 17, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 181)]

DOE- The Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy announces a meeting of the Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Houston North Greenspoint, 425 North Sam Houston Parkway, Houston, TX 77067. For more information contact: Elena Melchert, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Oil and Natural Gas, Washington, DC 20585. Phone: 202-586-5600.
[Federal Register: September 17, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 181)]

EPA- Environmental Protection Agency gives notice of a public meeting of the Coastal Elevations and Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee (CESLAC) on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Washington National Airport Hotel, 1480 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202. For more information contact: Jack Fitzgerald, Designated Federal Officer, Climate Change Division, Mail Code 6207J, Office of Atmospheric Programs, Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20460; e-mail address:  Fitzgerald.jack@epa.gov, telephone number (202) 343-9336, fax: (202) 343-2337.
[Federal Register: September 17, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 181)]

DOI- National Park Service announces that the National Park System Advisory Board will meet December 2-3, 2008, in Corpus Christi, TX. The agenda will include the review of proposed actions regarding the National Historic Landmarks Program and the National Natural Landmarks Program.
[Federal Register: September 22, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 184)]

USDA- The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service is requesting stakeholder input in developing regulations for identifying and certifying institutions as Hispanic-serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACUs). The meeting will be held on Sunday, October 12, 2008. All comments not presented or submitted for the record at the meeting must be received by close of business Monday, October 27, 2008, to be considered. E-mail comments to: HSACU@csrees.usda.gov.
[Federal Register: September 24, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 186)]

NASA- National Aeronautics and Space Administration announces a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council on Thursday, October 16, 2008. The agenda for the meeting includes updates from each of the Council committees, including discussion and deliberation of potential recommendations. The Council Committees address NASA interests in the following areas: Aeronautics, Audit and Finance, Space Exploration, Human Capital, Science, and Space Operations.
[Federal Register: September 24, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 186)]

DOI- U.S. Geological Survey announces that the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) will meet on October 15-16, 2008 at the National Conservation Training Center, 698 Conservation Way, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. Topics to be addressed at the meeting include: changing landscape white paper, geospatial transition Paper, national land parcel data study, imagery for the nation update, geospatial line of business update and NGAC action plan. Members of the public who wish to attend the meeting must register in advance for clearance into the meeting site. Please register by contacting Arista Maher at the U.S. Geological Survey (703-648-6283, amaher@usgs.gov). Registrations are due by October 10. Members of the public who cannot attend in person may listen to the meeting via conference call/web conference.
[Federal Register: September 29, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 189)]

29. Web Updates

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:

·  Hearings on Clean Air (10-1-08)
·  Hearings on Energy Policy (9-30-08)
·  Hearings on Water Resources (9-28-08)
·  Hearings on Clean Air (9-28-08)
·  Hearings on Climate Change (9-28-08)
· Action Alert: Request Increased Funding for NSF, DOE Office of Science and NIST (9-12-08)

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Monthly Review prepared by Marcy Gallo and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs and by Merilie Reynolds, AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Sources: E& E Daily, Greenwire, Washington Post, The National Academies, Reuters, guardian.co.uk, Thomas (Library of Congress), Congress Daily, AAAS, AIP, NASA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, No Child Left Inside Coalition, ClimateWire, National Center for Science Education and Science

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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 geoscience 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.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted October 2, 2008.

 

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