Monthly Review: October 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.
A Month Behind Schedule, No End In Sight?
So goes the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 appropriations process. The new fiscal year went into effect on September 30th and since then the government has been operating at last year's funding levels by virtue of continuing resolutions (CR), the latest running until November 7th. This year's process is mostly characterized by distraction. Like every year, Members of Congress want to bring programs and projects, highway funding and water treatment plants home to their districts, but this time they are also battling over how much money should be spent to rebuild Iraq as well as the final energy and Medicare bills. These other pieces of legislation have taken center stage while appropriations bills are debated late into the evening hours when policymakers are weary after fighting other battles all day long. While the House has approved its version of all 13 appropriations bills, the Senate has yet to approve the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-State, VA/HUD and DC appropriations bills. Negotiations continue on the Military Construction, Labor/HHS and Energy and Water bills. Only four spending bills have gone to the president for his signature, the Interior bill among them (see below for details). The current target adjournment for the session is November 21st. More on the appropriations process at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004.html.
One of the few bright spots in the FY 2004 appropriations process is the Interior bill, which is finally on its way to President Bush after surviving a close vote in the House (216-205) and a lopsided one in the Senate (87-2). Opposition in the House centered on a legislative rider added in conference to delay a federal judge's deadlines in Indian Trust Fund litigation facing the Department of the Interior. The bill provides the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with $950 million, $21 million more than the Senate provided and $14 million more than the House provided and $54 million more than the administration requested. All budget figures appear to be subject to an across-the-bill 0.6% cut. Much of the increase reflects congressionally directed spending (earmarks) as both the House and Senate deferred to the other's projects in the final bill. Geological programs were funded at $236 million ($1 million less than the Senate but $5 million more than the House and $14 million more than the budget request). Mapping programs are slated to receive $130 million. Water resource programs received a bump up to $217 million in conference ($10 million more than last year, $17 million more than the request). Biological programs also received a "plus-up" of $6 million over the Senate allocation to bring it to $176 million. The conference report commented on the need for increased federal users of Landsat 7 and supported USGS efforts to improve data management at the EROS Data Center.
The final bill provided some additional restoration of funds for oil and gas research programs in the Department of Energy (DOE), which were slated for major reductions in the president's budget request. Oil technology programs will receive $35 million, down $7 million from FY 2003 but $18.5 million more than the president's request. Natural gas programs will get $42 million, down $4 million from FY 2003 but up $16 million from the request. Increases in the conference report reflect directed spending on Arctic-related research.
More specific numbers for geoscience-related programs in the bill are available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_interior.html. AGI sent an alert in mid-October encouraging geoscientists to press for increases in these programs. The alert is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/interior_alert1003.html. At the current stage, thank-you letters would be appropriate and much appreciated.
The Energy and Water bill negotiations have run into multiple problems, including funding for the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste disposal site. According to Environment and Energy Daily, House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) has called Yucca Mountain his "top priority," allocating $765 million for the planned high-level nuclear waste repository, an increase of $174 million over President Bush's request and $308 million more than FY '03. The extra money would help fund the development of a rail line in Nevada that would avoid transporting waste through the Las Vegas area. In doing so, Hobson has set up a clash with Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Harry Reid (D-NV) who, along with the rest of Nevada's congressional delegation, vigorously opposes Yucca Mountain. The Senate funded the project at $425 million, $166 million less than the request and $32 million lower than the FY '03 level. Proponents of Yucca Mountain have expressed concern that inadequate funding will further delay the project.
Differences abound over spending for nuclear weapons as well, but the provision that has brought the entire process to "total meltdown," according to a Republican aide, involves a legislative provision that has been attached to the bill. This "rider" would move responsibilities for processing claims of injured nuclear workers from the Department of Energy to the Labor Department, which may be better prepared to handle sick worker claims. Because this issue is highly emotional, it may have squelched hopes for a swift conference on the bill, but conferees are meeting on November 5th to try again. For information on previous action on the bill, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_energy.html.
Although U.S.-imposed economic sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Libya and Sudan are nothing new, a recent Treasury Department ruling extends the sanctions to many services provided by scientific and engineering societies to members in those countries. Societies may not elevate such members to a higher-grade membership, nominate or consider them for awards, edit their submitted journal articles prior to publication or allow them to use e-mail aliases and web accounts, access online job listings or conduct conferences under the society name. Due to an exemption created in 1994, members in restricted countries can still receive "information and informational material," which allows organizations to mail their own journals and other publications to these individuals.
These sanctions and their effect on professional organizations and scientific publishing began to come to light shortly before 9/11. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) tried to pay for expenses related to a symposium that IEEE was cosponsoring in Tehran in the summer of 2001. According to IEEE's President, Michael S. Adler, as reported in IEEE Spectrum: "Our bank notified us -- 'Do you realize this isn't allowed?' -- and we started looking at the regulations carefully." Thus began negotiations between IEEE and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a powerful division charged with enforcing U.S. sanctions on embargoed countries. Sanctions tend to be overly broad by nature and OFAC has the ability to provide exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Not heeding the sanctions or "working around" the system can bring fines of up to $10 million and even prison terms. On October 1, 2003, OFAC sent a letter to IEEE stating that editing was a "service" and that IEEE must apply for a special license in order to edit manuscripts prior to publication if the author (or one of a group of authors) is from an embargoed country. IEEE has applied for that license. Even if they are granted the exemption, that does not mean that other scientific publishers will be granted an exemption since OFAC reviews all licenses on a case-by-case basis and claims that it does not typically take "precedent" into account.
Because of the increasingly global nature of scientific societies, the Treasury ruling could have a major impact on how they do business. A number of societies are seeking to engage the White House on this matter, and AGI will attempt to keep the geoscience community informed as developments occur. An on-line extra in IEEE Spectrum about the dispute is at http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/wonews/oct03/1003ofac.html. IEEE's web site has additional information at http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp?pageID=corp_level1&path=about&file=ofac.xml&xsl=generic.xsl .
House and Senate leaders have tried to intervene in the conference to iron out differences between the two chambers' versions of energy legislation. Vice President Cheney has also been involved with the negotiations. On October 30th, President Bush made one of his strongest statements to date while on a political fundraising swing through Ohio. Energy and Environment Daily reported that his message to Congress was "resolve your differences. Understand that if you're interested in people finding a job, we need an energy policy. Get the bill done."
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. In negotiations like these, it helps when the principal negotiators have a good relationship with each other. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA), who oversee negotiations on tax-related provisions, have a "prickly" relationship at best. As negotiations have progressed, relations between their respective staffs have become strained as well, further delaying action on this legislation. Adding to the tension, Thomas and Grassley are also negotiating the high-stakes Medicare prescription drug reform bill.
Both of these bills need to be approved before Congress goes home for the holidays. Doing so would secure two legislative wins for President Bush, and these are politically hot-button issues that nobody wants to address in an election year. Energy conferee and former Majority Leader of the Senate, Trent Lott, was quoted earlier this week as saying that House and Senate leaders should get aggressive about getting the two sides to cooperate. According to Lott, that is best done when the leaders "open the bazaar and say 'What do you need?'" While not substantively linked, rumors have been circulating throughout Washington that some last-minute horse-trading may be done between these two bills and the remaining appropriations bills to wrap up Congress's work for the year.
On a related front, with natural gas now accounting for a quarter
of U.S. energy consumption, this energy resource is becoming increasingly
important not just in heating homes and driving power plants but also
in the political arena. The economic effects of recent price volatility
have led to a flurry of legislative debate both within and outside
the context of congressional efforts to pass comprehensive energy
legislation. To enhance AGI's coverage of energy issues, we have added
a new web page providing the latest developments along with background
information and links to additional sources on natural gas policy
On October 30th, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) finally received a long-promised opportunity for debate and a vote on their bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions from a range of U.S. industrial sectors. After five hours of debate on the Senate floor -- the first time the Senate had addressed climate change in six years -- the measure was voted down 43-55. Following the vote, McCain said that he was encouraged by the strong Senate support for S. 139, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003: "We've lost a battle today, but we'll win over time because climate change is real. And we will overcome the influence of the special interests over time. You can only win by marshaling public opinion." To that end, McCain and Lieberman have vowed to continue pushing this issue through congressional hearings, public outreach and pursuing additional floor time next spring. More information is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html.
Reversing a strict interpretation of the Mining Law of 1872 adopted
by the Clinton administration, the Department of the Interior (DOI)
announced on October 10th that it would no longer limit mining companies
to one five-acre parcel per mineral claim. Industry leaders and Western
legislators have argued that the Clinton interpretation ignored technological
advances since 1872 that require more space for processing. The new
DOI interpretation continues to confine millsites to five acres each,
but places no limit on the number of such plots permitted per 20-acre
mineral claim. The decision was published in the Federal Register
without a public comment period and is final. For additional information
on this decision or other mining policy issues, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mining.html.
The Senate ended a two-month impasse over the nomination of Utah
Governor Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) on October 28th. Leavitt was approved with an 88-8 vote in which
36 Democrats and Vermont independent James Jeffords joined all 51
Senate Republicans to confirm him. Leavitt is expected to resign as
the Governor of Utah very soon and arrive back in Washington around
November 5th for his swearing in ceremony. For additional information
on the turbulent path of Leavitt's nomination, his background and
environmental philosophy see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/epa_admin.html.
The debate about opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum exploration has been raging for several years, but drilling is already taking place in a number of other federal wildlife refuges. House Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), concerned that information has been lacking about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently monitors oil and gas activities within the refuge system, asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to do a study. GAO presented their findings at an oversight hearing on October 30th, reporting that the federal management and oversight of drilling activities varies widely among the nation's refuges due to differences in authority to oversee private mineral rights and a lack adequate guidance, resources and training for refuge managers. More on the report and hearing at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/FWS_oilandgas.html.
The House Science Committee has spent this fall holding hearings about the Columbia shuttle tragedy and attempting to plot a course for the future of space travel. This past month, the committee examined whether Mars should be the next objective of human space flight. Witnesses brought a tremendous depth of expertise covering manned and unmanned space science and exploration, military technology, and the history of technology to the hearings. While the witnesses saw little value in the current space shuttle and space station programs, there was not a clear consensus on what NASA's goals for its human space flight should be. Not everyone could agree that unmanned space flight should become the norm for conducting space science experiments. Likewise, there was disagreement about making Mars the next major new mission. Everyone did agree, though, with Chairman Boehlert's final statement, "the primary reason for human exploration is the impulse to explore, rather than a more utilitarian goal that you can quantify or measure immediately, although there can be collateral benefits." More on the hearing at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full03/index.htm.
The House Science Committee also took a new look at our local star.
The importance of accurate space weather forecasting was front-and-center
for the last week in October as solar flares shined a light on the
Space Environment Center (SEC). The SEC, located in Boulder, CO predicts
space weather, minimizing the risk to systems that rely heavily on
satellite performance, like air traffic control, the International
Space Station (and astronauts on it), electrical grids and cell phone
users. Targeted for elimination in the Senate version of the Commerce
appropriations bill, the center and recent events were the focus of
a hearing by the House Science Committee. For more on this issue,
The House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on October 30th on Senate-passed legislation (S. 212) that would improve hydrogeologic characterization of the High Plains Aquifer. Underlying all or part of eight states, the aquifer is -- according to Kansas State Geologist Lee Allison, who testified on behalf of a coalition of state geological surveys -- "the most intensely pumped aquifer in the United States." With water levels dropping rapidly in many parts of the aquifer system, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and a number of co-sponsors are seeking to achieve a common basis of understanding the problem so that local and state policymakers can seek an effective solution.
The hearing was contentious with a number of groups, such as the
National Corn Growers Association, testifying against the bill, expressing
fear that it would be the "camel's nose under the tent"
for federal regulation of ground water. By the end, however, it appeared
that members of the subcommittee were willing to explore ways to allow
the bill to move forward. For background on this issue, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/highplainsaquifer.html.
On October 16th the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands heard testimony on H.R. 2909, the Utah Test and Training Range Protection Act. The bill would subvert efforts by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians to build a high-level nuclear waste repository on reservation land in Utah by creating a federal wilderness area and restricting access to the proposed site. A good cross-section of the stakeholders in this debate testified, including environmentalists, the administration and the Air Force. Witnesses expressed concern for the bill in its current form and criticized it as being too vague about exactly which lands would be declared wilderness areas. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/yucca.html.
At an October 23rd meeting of the Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) commissioner Edward McGaffian said that Department of Energy (DOE) plans to open the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in 2010 were not realistic, "It's almost a fact. 2010 is just about impossible." He added that 2015 was a more achievable target. The USNRC must approve DOE's plan for Yucca Mountain before the site can open. While conventional wisdom has long held that opening the facility in seven years is nearly impossible, this was widely viewed as the first time a high-level official engaged with the discussions admitted as much.
Finally, Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced legislation on Halloween that would free the Yucca Mountain project from the whims of appropriators each year (see discussion of Energy and Water appropriations above). The bill would change the Nuclear Waste Fund, a $14 billion account created to pay for the waste repository, so that funds would go directly to the Yucca Mountain project rather than into the general treasury for subsequent distribution. Nuclear power users contribute more than $750 million into the fund each year through fees included in utility bills. With interest, the waste fund accumulates about $1.4 billion annually. According to its proponents, the bill would re-establish the link between consumer contribution and program funding.
Helping to celebrate this year's Earth Science Week on October 12th-18th,
President Bush issued a message stating in part: "Earth Science
Week provides an opportunity to recognize our progress in conservation
through environmental stewardship and the contributions of geologists,
geophysicists, and other environmental scientists. These professionals
help preserve our natural resources, protect our health, keep us safe
from natural disasters, and increase our appreciation for the Earth's
beauty." The message joins proclamations issued by numerous state
governors and city mayors. The text of the message was sent as a special
update and is available on the web at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/esw2003_presidentmessage.html.
Last month, a fresh crop of congressional science and engineering fellows landed on Capitol Hill, five geoscientists among them. After a three-week orientation run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which oversees the program, fellows interviewed with a wide array of House and Senate offices before choosing the best fit for them. Fellows are independent operators and receive no placement guidance from their sponsoring society. In mid-October, AGI's 2003-2004 fellow, Eloise Kendy, a hydrologist from Montana, announced her placement with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. She expects to spend the year focusing on public lands, natural resource management and waste disposal issues for the senator. Other geoscientists include AGU fellow Kevin Vranes, working for Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon; GSA/USGS fellow Michele Koppes, working for Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington; and American Institute of Physics fellow Lee Hirsch, working for Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington. All chose to work for the minority. Soil Science Society of America fellow Mike Schmidt will choose a placement when he starts this coming January. For more on the fellowship program, past fellows, and how to apply, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/csf . The deadline for next year's fellowship is February 1, 2004.
The AAAS fellowship program is marking its 30th anniversary this
fall and in honor of that, the House passed a resolution on October
28th honoring the hundreds of science fellows who have served in Congress
and the Administration. In approving this measure (House Concurrent
Resolution 279), the Science Committee noted that over the past 30
years this program has provided more than 800 scientists the opportunity
to work in Congress. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY) expounded on that point by saying, "The fellows program
has also been an entry point for many of the best staff we have on
Capitol Hill. We recognize the value of the AAAS program daily on
the Science Committee, where ten of our staff members began their
careers on the Hill as fellows." More on the overall AAAS program
The American Institute of Biological Sciences and the National Center
for Science Education announced earlier this month that the AIBS/NCSE
Evolution List Server Network now has list serves in every state,
Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and Alberta and Ontario, Canada.
New list serves were recently launched in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware,
Hawaii, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington
DC. According to AIBS, the network enables scientists, teachers, and
other supporters of evolution education to be in touch with each other
locally, nationally, and internationally. In addition to serving as
a support system for educators teaching evolution in a difficult local
environment, the network facilitates rapid communication and grass-roots
activity when school boards or legislatures consider policies that
promote the teaching of anti-evolutionary ideas in science classes.
For more information or to sign up, visit http://www.aibs.org/mailing-lists/the_aibs-ncse_evolution_list_server.html.
In response to a request from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Research Council (NRC) has formed a committee to identify research areas in geoengineering likely to be of relevance over the next 10 to 30 years. Scientists and engineers can submit one-sentence summaries that quickly convey their research ideas to a broad audience as well as a longer narrative description of those ideas. The committee will likely invite some respondents to future workshops on related topics. Please submit comments to http://qp.nas.edu/geoengineering_research by November 12, 2003. The web site also includes additional information on the study.
The National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Research Business Models is seeking input from research performers on a set of nine questions published in the Federal Register on August 6th. This input combined with three meetings to be held across the country over the next two months marks the beginning phase of a process to revise the science and technology research grant making and administration process. These regional meetings and public comments will serve as input for a two-day subcommittee meeting in Washington on December 9th and 10th, 2003. Details about the regional meetings and how to submit public comments were published in the September 16th edition of the Federal Register. To respond to the questions or get information about the meetings, log on to http://rbm.nih.gov. Comments must be received by December 9th.
Below 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.
Department of Energy (DOE), Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee Meeting Notice. October 20, 2003, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, October 21, 2003, 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Open Session. Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852. Volume 68, Number 191 (2 October, 2003): pp. 56824
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Request for Applications for Essential Use Exemptions to the Production and Import Phaseout of Ozone Depleting Substances Under the Montreal Protocol for the Years 2005 and 2006. File by November 1, 2003 with Scott Monroe, Global Programs Division (6205J), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460. Volume 68, Number 198 (14 October, 2003): pp. 59170-59172
Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Gas Markets Conference, Supplemental Notice of Public Conference and Agenda. October 14, 2003, 9:00 a.m., Commission Meeting Room, Room 2C, FERC Headquarters, 888 First St. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20426. Volume 68, Number 199(15 October, 2003): p. 59395-59396
Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Fossil Energy, National Coal Council Meeting Notice. December 4, 2003, 9 a.m. to 12 Noon, Open Session. Fairmont Hotel, 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC. Volume 68, Number 200 (16 October, 2003): p. 59596
National Science Foundation (NSF), Earthscope Science and Education Advisory Committee, Notice of Establishment. Volume 68, Number 200 (16 October, 2003): p. 59642
National Science Foundation (NSF), Advisory Committee for Geosciences, Meeting Notice. 1:30-5:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 12, 2003; 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thursday, November 13, 2003; 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Friday, November 14, 2003, Open Session. National Science Foundation, 4200 Wilson Boulevard, Room 1235, Arlington, VA 22230. Volume 68, Number 200 (16, October, 2003): p. 59642
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Science Advisory Board Staff Office: Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Notification of Advisory Committee Meeting of the CASAC Particulate Matter Review Panel Notice. 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. November 12 and 13, 2003. Open Session. Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina, or the immediate vicinity. Volume 68, Number 204 (22, October, 2003): p. 60363-60365
U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, Morris K. Udall Foundation. 8 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m. on November 12, and from 8 a.m. to approximately noon on November 13. Westward Look Resort, 245 Ina Road, Tucson, Arizona 85704. Partly Open Session. Volume 68, Number 204 (22, October 2003): p. 60420-60421
NASA Earth Science Technology Subcommittee; Meeting Notice. Wednesday, November 5, 2003, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Holiday Inn on the Hill, 415 New Jersey Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20001. Volume 68, Number 206 (24, October 2003): p. 61018
Council on Environmental Quality National Environmental Policy Act
Task Force Meeting. November 13 and 14, 2003, 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Southeast Regional Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection, Lee Park (Suite 6010), 555 North Lane in Conshohocken
Pennsylvania, 19428-2233. Volume 68, Number 207 (27, October 2003):
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: American Institute of Biological Sciences, Department
of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, Environment and
Energy Daily, Greenwire, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA,
Thomas: Library of Congress web site, U.S. House of Representatives,
U.S. Senate, The Washington Post.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted November 6, 2003 Technical Correction: December 4, 2003