Monthly Review: October 2005
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.
Oversight: Federal Response and Gulf Recovery
Over the past month, Congress has continued to address the aftermath
of Hurricane Katrina, holding hearings to oversee the federal government
response and to discuss proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Some
Democrats in Congress have criticized the congressional investigations
for not determining the source of the federal government's failures.
Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME),
who chair the investigative panels in their respective chambers, say
they are waiting to receive more documents from the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) before continuing their investigations.
The structure of FEMA and its place within DHS remains a concern
for Congress and state and local emergency managers. While testifying
before the House Select Committee on Katrina, Homeland Security Chief
Michael Chertoff said that FEMA receives more resources because it
is within DHS, contradicting earlier statements by Michael Brown that
DHS caused "the emaciation of FEMA" by cutting funds and
staff. On October 18, the Washington Post reported that some of the
emails to and from Brown that have already been released to Congress
implicate Brown as well as his superiors in coordination problems,
including "a misunderstanding of national disaster plan roles,
communications failures, delayed decision making and absent voices
of leadership." Newly released emails suggest that former FEMA
director Michael Brown was also more focused on his appearance, media
relations and dinner arrangements as New Orleans flooded. At one point
Brown refers to himself as a "fashion god" on the morning
that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana.
Congress has gone forward with a controversial plan to further reorganize
FEMA within DHS, a result of the agency's "Second Stage Review,"
that Michael Chertoff released in July. The plan will restore FEMA's
status as a stand-alone agency but reduce its function to disaster
response only. DHS plans to open a separate Office of Disaster Preparedness
to handle disaster preparation and move FEMA's education programs
to a different part of DHS. Chertoff's plans were incorporated into
the Fiscal Year 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (PL 109-90),
which was signed into law on October 18.
On November 3, 2005, President Bush named Donald Powell, current
head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., to serve as the coordinator
for recovery and rebuilding. Powell will oversee all of the federal
spending for Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief and recovery; spending
that could reach $200 billion over the next 5 years.
As investigative panels wait to hear more from DHS, much of the focus
on Katrina has shifted to recovery plans, particularly in New Orleans.
In recent hearings, members of Congress have mixed an urgency to rebuild
New Orleans and its economy with caution about the allocation of federal
funds and the need to rebuild more wisely, slowly and safely. Federal
and state officials, engineers and other scientists who testified
before Congress repeatedly asserted the importance of an integrated
recovery approach that emphasizes wetlands restoration and other non-structural
techniques to improve storm protection. Flood managers and engineers
also pressed for a national levee system and assessment plan.
Along with specific recommendations, witnesses and Members acknowledged
the complexity of the problem. At one hearing, two geoscientists,
Denise Reed from the University of New Orleans, and Roy Dokka, Director
of the Louisiana State University Center for Geoinformatics, were
cautious about wetlands restoration in New Orleans. Reed emphasized
the need for robust ecological protections, but was not optimistic
about bringing back wetlands that have already been lost. Dokka meanwhile
dismissed the importance of wetlands, saying that subsidence is the
major concern in the region, and levees are the city's best defense.
Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), a member of the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, stated the Republican leadership hoped
to draft policy that incorporates witnesses' recommendations, however,
no timeline has been set for this process.
Comprehensive summaries of congressional Hearings on Hurricane Katrina
are available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/katrina_hearings.html.
ASCE/ NSF Study Finds
Flaws in New Orleans Levee Design
The University of California at Berkeley funded by the National Science
Foundation (NSF), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and
the state of Louisiana are each conducting independent investigations
into the causes of the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Preliminary results indicate that design flaws related to soil strength
caused at least 2 major floodwalls on the 17th Street and London Avenue
canals adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain to catastrophically fail. The
floodwalls were built into older earthen levees by the Army Corps
of Engineers in the 1980s to provide greater protection for northern
New Orleans. The concrete floodwalls were supported on steel pilings
driven 20 feet into the relatively weak soil, which is composed of
silty to sandy river deposits and peat layers. Just below the steel
pilings is a layer of peat that investigators believe became a conduit
for the water that was building up in the canals to seep through and
undermine the base of the clay-rich earthen levee. Once a line of
weakness had formed along the base of the levee, the floodwalls could
not counter the force of the water and the levee embankment slid more
than 30 feet into the neighborhoods as the floodwalls collapsed. The
water then rushed in, causing rapid and unexpected flooding that probably
took more lives than the initial storm surge.
The Corps had tested the strength of the soils in the 1980s and designed
the concrete and steel structures based on these analyses. Contractors
then built the floodwalls to the Corps' design specifications. In
1994, a Corps contractor claimed in court documents that the floodwalls
were not lining up properly because of the weak soils, suggesting
a design flaw. A judge dismissed the complaint in 1998 on technical
grounds without addressing the issue of possible design problems.
A second design flaw related to the building of the Mississippi River
Gulf Outlet (MRGO) may have helped breach the Industrial canal floodwalls
and flood the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. The Corps completed
the 76 mile long and 36 foot deep MRGO in 1965 to provide a shortcut
for ships and barges to the Port of New Orleans. The outlet funneled
more water moving at a faster speed from storm surge into the Industrial
canal. Computer modeling shows that the outlet increased the intensity
of the surge by 20%, raising the water level an additional 3 feet
and increasing the rate of water transfer from 3 feet per second in
Lake Borgne to 6 to 8 feet per second at the mouth of the outlet.
Some of the investigators suggest the funneling added to the intensity
of the storm surge and caused the canal to be overtopped. The Corps
counters that the storm surge was more than a few feet over the level
of the floodwalls and the massive surge primarily overtopped the floodwalls
to cause most of the flooding. Some of the investigators remain uncertain
about whether design flaws, storm surge or both are primarily to blame.
The National Weather Service had identified a "breach" in
the Industrial canal levee when it issued a flash flood warning for
the ninth ward and Arabi at 8:14 am on the morning that Hurricane
Katrina made landfall (at 6:10 am, 63 miles from New Orleans).
Further complicating the levee investigations are at least a dozen
allegations of shoddy construction by contractors that have been given
to the independent investigators. Raymond Seed, an engineering professor
and leader of the University of California team said in a Senate hearing
"What we have right now are stories of malfeasance and some field
evidence that seems to correlate with those stories." The investigators
plan to share these allegations with federal law enforcement, although
Seed also indicated in his testimony that it is not clear how big
a role the alleged shoddy construction may have played in the catastrophic
failures of the floodwalls.
These investigations are preliminary and more work is needed to clarify
the causes of the flooding. Besides these 3 independent investigations,
the Corps continues to study the failures, and Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld has announced that the National Academies of Science and
Engineering will lead a separate investigation.
The Corps is required by law to rebuild the levees to withstand a
category 3 hurricane. They are considering driving the steel pilings
to a deeper depth of 40 feet to avoid a repeat of the floodwall failures
along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals. The Corps is also
planning to build the levees to a height of 17 feet. The existing
levees were built to 15 feet but have settled to about 12 or 13 feet
over time. Besides the design flaws and alleged shoddy construction,
the Corps must deal with the natural and man-made loss of wetlands
and barrier islands and the natural and man-made subsidence that a
bevy of geoscientists have been tracking for decades.
President Bush Proposes
New Katrina Offsets Amid Budget Negotiations
On October 28, President Bush requested that Congress rescind $2.3
billion in government spending and redesignate another $17 billion
in Hurricane Katrina relief funds to pay for rebuilding critical infrastructure
in the Gulf Coast region. The $2.3 billion would come primarily from
unused FY 2005 funds in a variety of government programs, including
Interior department wildfire management, radioactive waste treatment
at the Hanford site, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The $17 billion would come from the $60 billion previously allocated
to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster management account.
Under the plan, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $1.6 billion
to rebuild levees, waterways and wetlands and $4.6 million to finish
a levee upgrade study. Other requests include $324 million for NASA
repairs, $124 million for national parks and wildlife refuges, and
$41.4 million to upgrade National Weather Service hurricane forecasting
equipment. A White
House fact sheet summarizes the plan as well as how the $64 billion
in emergency relief has already been spent. Because the request does
not propose any new spending, it is unlikely that it will face major
Meanwhile, Congress is working hard to pass a budget reconciliation
bill within the next week that would help offset expenditures related
to Katrina in the long term. On November 3, the Senate passed a $35
billion package of savings from mandatory spending, the first such
reduction in spending since the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The
Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 (S 1932)
saves $70 billion by cutting spending on entitlement programs, including
student loans, Medicare and Medicaid. The savings are offset by $35
billion in new spending, including $4.3 billion in education and coastal
restoration funds for states damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The bill
also authorizes leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
for energy development.
A $50 billion companion House plan, which involves deeper cuts to
Medicaid and food stamps, is scheduled for a floor vote the week of
November 7. Later this month, Republicans in the House and the Senate
are still hoping to pass a $70 billion tax cut plan that was part
of the budget reconciliation agreement and which will most likely
be balanced by additional spending cuts. This combination of deep
cuts for social programs and new tax cuts has troubled many Democrats
and some Republicans. Wavering support in the House signals an uncertain
future for both reconciliation bills.
Update on FY 2006
As the House and Senate continue to negotiate reductions in mandatory
spending, the Senate passed the last of its fiscal year (FY) 2006
appropriations bills on October 27. Congress has so far come to agreement
on four bills setting the fiscal year 2006 budgets for the Department
of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Interior and
Environment Agencies, and the Legislative Branch. Disputes over how
to cut spending in discretionary programs are still unresolved, but
all programs will probably sustain an across-the-board 1%-2% cut that
will also apply to bills already signed into law. For some agencies
such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), this will be the second
year in a row to suffer such a cut.
A conference agreement over the Energy and Water Appropriations bill
is expected by November 18, when a continuing resolution extending
FY 2005 funding expires. Conferees overcame a major hurdle this month
when they agreed to split the $1.5 billion difference between the
House and Senate budget proposals. However, disputes remain over Army
Corps of Engineers contracting procedures and the flexibility of the
On Friday November 4, conferees completed the FY 2006 Appropriations
bill for Science, State, Justice, and Commerce. In a victory for science,
conferees decided on $5.65 billion for the National Science Foundation,
a $50 million increase over the President's request, $10 million over
the House mark, and $120 million over the Senate recommendation. This
total includes $807 million for NSF's Education and Human Resources
Directorate, with $64 million going to the Math and Science Partnership
program. For education programs, these figures represent the highest
of the Senate and House recommendations but still come in roughly
$15 million under FY 2005 funding.
Conferees split the $1 billion difference in recommended funds for
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), bringing
NOAA's total to $3.9 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) also fared well at $16.5 billion, just above the House and
Senate recommendations. Although the proposed increases shows strong
legislative support for science programs, these totals do not reflect
the impact of a likely 0.3% cut conferees need to impose upon the
whole bill in order to bring total spending back down below the committee's
allocation under the budget resolution.
Energy Policy Developments
The rapid push to pass new energy legislation following Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita slowed down somewhat during October. A bill to expand
refinery capacity proposed by Senate Environment and Public Works
James Inhofe (R-OK) failed to pass the committee on October 26 and
appears to be stalled for now. A similar but more ambitious bill sponsored
by Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) narrowly passed the House on October
7, but without sufficient support in the Senate it is unlikely that
refinery legislation will be passed this year.
Meanwhile, budget reconciliation language that includes oil leasing
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has gained approval
from the full Senate after an amendment to strip the language failed
by a vote of 51 to 48. The fate of the refuge now rests on the ability
of House leadership to garner more support for their budget reconciliation
bill. The House version of the ANWR language specifies the size of
the area to be drilled and includes details on environmental restrictions.
The House Resources reconciliation package also includes several
measures from an energy bill introduced earlier this fall by Representative
Richard Pombo (R-CA), including a controversial proposal to allow
states to opt-out of offshore drilling moratoria. The measure would
also call for leases in the unprotected "Area 181" off the
coast of Alabama and Florida, and give states about 50% of the royalties
in return. Language that sets aside offshore royalties for petroleum
engineering and mining schools and for a National Geologic Data and
Mapping Fund also are part of the reconciliation package. However,
the Pombo language may not have a bright future in conference, because
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM)
has declined to put similar measures in the Senate budget reconciliation
package. It is likely that any specific language regarding environmental
restrictions for ANWR drilling or funding for related projects such
as geologic data preservation will be eliminated in conference in
order to avoid the possibility of a Senate challenge under the "Byrd
rule" which prohibits extraneous measures in spending bills.
Domenici is working on separate legislation that would tackle the
offshore drilling issue in 2006.
At an October 27 hearing with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Senator Domenici was very adamant
about the importance of opening Area 181. At the same hearing, however,
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) made it clear that she would oppose opening
new offshore leases until Louisiana and other states receive a greater
share of the revenues. In the meantime, congressional interest in
onshore energy development has also gained momentum. The Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior and Environment held a hearing on October
25 to examine natural gas production on Bureau of Land Management
lands, and how the Energy Policy Act of 2005 improves this process.
Although no new bills have been introduced, some members of Congress
are acting to ensure federal agencies responsible for issuing leases
and permits for onshore energy development are operating efficiently.
For updates regarding energy policy, including recent hearings, go
Updates on ANWR specifically are posted at: www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/anwr.html.
Promotes Conservation With Energy Hog
On October 3, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and the Alliance to
Save Energy announced a major campaign to encourage energy conservation
focused around a cartoon mascot named "Energy Hog." The
cartoon pig, who wears blue jeans and a leather biker jacket, will
appear in ads promoting traditional energy saving tips such as adding
home insulation and reducing driving speeds. "This effort will
provide consumers, industry and federal agencies with a variety of
energy savings ideas, which, if done properly, can yield significant
savings," Bodman said. The campaign has been characterized as
"toothless" by many Democrats and environmental groups,
who are calling for increases in vehicle mileage standards as a more
meaningful way to save energy. At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee hearing in late October, Bodman vowed that the federal government
would "lead by example" and reduce its own energy consumption,
although he opposed implementing mandatory cuts. Visit http://www.energyhog.org/.
GAO Releases Report
on STEM Education
On October 12, 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released
Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Programs
and Related Trends," (PDF) a report requested by Representative
David Dreier (R-CA) that examines trends in STEM education at the
postsecondary level, and the federal programs designed to improve
it. The report documented slower growth in post-secondary science
and engineering degrees. The GAO also found that the most important
factors in increasing the number of students in STEM fields were K-12
teacher quality, the number of math and science classes completed
in high school, and mentors for women and minority students. The report
warned, however, that new programs should not be created before the
efficacy of existing programs was reviewed.
Report on Competitiveness Sparks Wave of Activity
On Wednesday October 12, the National Academies Committee on Prospering
in the Global Economy of the 21st Century released a report outlining
strategies to improve U.S. science education and global competitiveness.
The report, "Rising
Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a
Brighter Future," provides 20 implementation plans divided
into four major policy categories: improving K-12 science and math
education, strengthening federal basic research, making the U.S. more
attractive to international students, and creating R&D investment
incentives. Specifically, the report calls for a hefty 10% annual
increase in federal research investment over the next 7 years, and
requests funds for ambitious scholarship programs to add 10,000 new
science and math teachers to the workforce each year. It also calls
for the Department of Energy to set up an agency similar to the Defense
Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which provides
federal funds to promote high-risk, innovative research.
Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who co-chair
the Senate Science and Technology Caucus, requested the National Academies'
review in order to make U.S. competitiveness, including physical science
funding, a higher congressional priority. The report follows on the
heals of at least 11 other assessments and policy recommendations
released this year by business and academic groups, think tanks, and
the Government Accountability Office (see previous story). For a list
of these reports, go to www.stemedcoalition.org/reports.aspx.
In the weeks following the report's release, U.S. competitiveness
and science education received a flurry of attention on Capitol Hill.
During the week of October 17, Norman Augustine, lead author of the
report and former CEO of Lockheed Martin, presented the report's recommendations
before the House Science Committee and the Senate Commerce Science
and Transportation Committee. Members were eager to put the report's
goals in motion, but were primarily concerned with how to fund them.
At a briefing hosted by the American Chemical Society, Senator Alexander
urged groups who have issued other policy reports, such as the Business
Roundtable and the Task Force on American Innovation, to work together
with the National Academies to develop a consensus proposal to deliver
Summaries of the congressional hearings are available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/science_edu_hearings.html
Department of Education
Creates a Higher Education Commission
The Department of Education has formed a commission
that will develop a national strategy for post-secondary education.
"We have a responsibility to make sure our higher education system
continues to meet our nation's needs for an educated and competitive
workforce in the 21st century," said Education Secretary Margaret
Spellings during a recent speech announcing the commission. The 19
member commission will be led by the former University of Texas Board
of Regents Chairman Charles Miller, and will include university presidents,
CEOs, policymakers, and researchers. The goal of the commission will
be to initiate a dialogue between policymakers and the business and
academic communities on the future of higher education. In addition
to competitiveness, the commission will address the affordability
of American higher education. The commission held its first meeting
in Washington D.C. on October 17, and will hold a second meeting in
Nashville on December 8 and 9. For more information about the commission
Kansas: Criticisms over Science Standards
An external review board criticized parts of Kansas's revised science
standards for being confusing and poorly written. The review board
revision, released October 13, 2005, is part of the normal approval
process, and the negative comments may cause the State Board of Education
to make further changes to the standards. The sections of the standards
that were singled out for criticism include changes made by a minority
group of board members that cast doubt on theories that life arose
from chemical processes and that humans and apes share a common ancestor.
For more information, go to http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/KS.html
On October 27, the National Academy of Sciences and the National
Science Teachers Association refused to grant copyright permission
to the Kansas State Board of Education to make use of publications
by the two organizations in the state's science education standards.
They cited a poor and misleading definition of science and an overemphasis
on describing evolution as a theory with flaws as reasons for the
copyright denial. Both groups have offered to work with the Kansas
school board to remove these misconceptions about evolution and retain
the approved definition of science from the majority report of the
Kansas standards science committee. A joint statement and more details
are available at:
Pennsylvania: Dover Trial Continues
The trial about mentioning intelligent design as an alternative to
evolution at the beginning biology instruction in Dover, Pennsylvania
continued this month featuring lengthy testimony from intelligent
design proponents. Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover received the most attention
in the press when the lead science witness for the defendants, Lehigh
University biochemistry professor Michael Behe, took the stand for
three days. Behe's arguments rested primarily on the idea of "irreducible
complexity," which suggests that many biochemical structures
are so complex that they could not have formed through natural selection.
Behe also argued that intelligent design is based on physical evidence,
even though the theory does not identify a physical mechanism for
the assemblage of complex structures. Under cross-examination, Behe
acknowledged that "astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent
design," under his definition of science. A full update is available
In another recent development, Judge John E. Jones, who is presiding
over the trial, denied consideration of an amicus brief filed by the
Discovery Institute. The judge said that the brief was a way for the
Discovery Institute to enter testimony from intelligent design proponent
Stephen Meyer into the court record "without opening themselves
up to the scrutiny of cross-examination."
The trial is expected to run a few days longer than scheduled due
to Behe's extended testimony. It will likely conclude within the first
two weeks of November. For more details about the trial and transcripts
from the court, see the National Center for Science Education website
Washington Think Tank Discusses Intelligent Design
On October 21, 2005, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a full-day
conference about the merits of teaching intelligent design (ID) in
science classrooms. The event was marked by two keynote addresses
and three panels featuring one-on-one debates among well-known scientists,
lawyers, ID advocates and other scholars. Two of the speakers, Barbara
Forrest, a philosophy professor from Southeastern Louisiana University,
and Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, served
as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover.
Another panelist, John Calvert from the Intelligent Design Network,
had presented key testimony at the Kansas State Board of Education
hearings earlier this year.
The debates explored several core philosophical questions inherent
in the disputes over intelligent design, including the definition
of science, and whether teaching science without theology is moral,
or even possible. Those who opposed teaching ID were consistent in
defining science as an intellectual pursuit involving testable evidence.
Proponents of intelligent design countered that the scientific method,
or "methodological naturalism," is not objective but is
simply another dogma that refuses to recognize certain other evidence.
On the practical topic of whether and how to teach the controversy,
it was often unclear what intelligent design advocates wanted. Some
speakers argued that the fight was over censorship, or the freedom
of teachers to show evidence that challenges evolution, while others
advocated for the possibility of a guiding hand (intelligent designer),
should be taught as a critical component of scientific inquiry. Others
still, including the Discovery Institute's Paul Nelson, stated the
opposite, that intelligent design should not be sanctioned in science
classrooms until the scientific community comes to recognize the evidence
in favor of it.
In the second keynote speech, Larry Krauss, an astrophysicist and
cosmologist from Case Western Reserve University, tried to shift the
focus from the philosophical questions to the overriding importance
of improving the quality of science teaching in the United States.
Krauss conceded that it is viable and important to ask such questions
as whether science is incomplete or immoral without God; but these
questions don't warrant changing high school science standards. "Why
not teach both?" he asked, "Because it is not the job of
education to validate different points of view but to overcome ignorance.
We must talk about real scientific controversies."
For an overview and web cast of the event and speaker biographies,
visit the American
The Changing Face
of NASA: More Rocket Scientists
The new NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin, is changing the structure
and leadership of this $16 billion agency. Griffin has replaced 6
top managers, added a new position and is in the process of replacing
4 center directors. At the very top, Griffin has inserted Shanna Dale,
a former deputy director at the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy, as his deputy administrator and Paul Morrell from
the White House National Security Council, as his Chief of Staff.
Just below Dale, Griffin created a new position for Rex Geveden, formerly
NASA's chief engineer, as the associate administrator. The four new
mission directors are: Lisa J. Porter for Aeronautics Research, William
H. Gerstenmaier for Space Operations, Scott J. Horowitz for Exploration
Systems and Mary L. Cleave for Science. The new center directors include
Kevin L. Peterson at Dryden Flight Research Center, Woodrow Whitlow
Jr. at Glenn Research Center, Lesa B. Roe at Langley Research Center,
William W. Parsons at Stennis Space Center and a new director still
to be determined at Johnson Space Center.
Griffin has indicated that he wants a technical and scientific leadership.
About the shake-up and the qualifications needed to be a top manager,
he is quoted in the Washington Post as saying "To do this you
do need to be a rocket scientist." Also according to the Post,
unnamed sources outside of NASA, have called Dale a "mole"
for the White House, while others claim she is a tactful interpreter,
put there to improve communications with policymakers and interpret
what Griffin is saying in a non-technical manner. Morrell has also
received some initial criticism for his ties to the White House and
for his less than diplomatic response to Congress about the recent
Government Accounting Office's report on the misuse of funds for air
travel by NASA employees.
New Navy Sonar Facility
Sounds More Likely
The Navy is moving forward on its plan to build a $99 million, 500
square mile sonar training range about 50 miles off of the coast of
North Carolina. The facility would train sailors to detect mid-frequency
sonar admitted by quieter diesel submarines. North Carolina was chosen
as the training site because the Navy wanted a shallow coastal environment
with canyons and other features. Public hearings on their plans will
be held in November.
Advocates for marine mammals and environmentalists are opposed to
the facility because the sonar can disorient, damage and in some cases
kill marine mammals, particularly whales with very sensitive hearing.
The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Navy in October over
its use of mid-frequency sonar that it claims are threatening endangered
marine mammals, violating several federal laws. In a draft of the
plan, the Navy seeks authorization from the National Marine Fisheries
Service to disturb or "harass" spotted, bottlenose, common,
Risso's and Clymene dolphins and pilot, humpback and sperm whales.
One of the most endangered species in the world, the right whales,
is known to migrate along the Atlantic coast from the Arctic to Florida.
The Navy did not mention the right whales in their report because
their analysis indicates that the majority of right whales have been
sighted within 37 miles of the coast and the training site is further
Adding more ill-will to the debate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has not completed their investigation of the death
of 37 whales that stranded themselves on North Carolina beaches within
24 hours of a Navy sonar training exercise. The investigation of the
stranding was suppose to be finished by the summer but will not be
completed until early next year; too late for it to be considered
during the public comment period on the Navy facility.
Earthquake in Pakistan
and Limited Response
A magnitude 7.6 earthquake occurred in Pakistan about 105 kilometers
(65 miles) northeast of Islamabad on October 8, 2005. The earthquake
occurred at a depth of about 26 kilometers (16 miles) along a system
of thrust faults that take up some of the deformation caused by the
continued northward motion of India (about 40 millimeters per year)
into the Eurasian plate. The earthquake caused extreme devastation
to tens of thousands of villages in Pakistan and India. Fatalities
caused by building collapse and landslides are estimated to be greater
than 79,000 in Pakistan and 1,360 in India. More than 70,000 people
have been injured and about 4 million people are homeless. Aid has
been very slow to reach the survivors because of the destruction of
roads, the remoteness and ruggedness of the countryside, the geopolitical
dispute over this region between Pakistan and India, the limited resources
of both countries and the lack of a large response from countries
outside of the area. The United Nations and many others have put out
a plea for more help as soon as possible. Thousands are likely to
perish because of a lack of medical help, a lack of clean water, a
lack of food and a lack of shelter as winter approaches.
A more detailed description of the earthquake is available at the
U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake
Hazards Program website:
More information about relief efforts is available from the International
Committee of the Red Cross website and the United
Nations Relief website:
Blair Gets Real
on Climate Change Ahead of London Meeting
The energy and/or environment ministers of 13 countries (U.S., U.K.,
France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada, China, India, Brazil,
Mexico and South Africa) met in London on November 1 and 2 to discuss
technological methods to reduce climate change without imposing any
internationally binding agreements. The meeting was designed to bring
the G8 nations together with five rapidly developing countries to
discuss carbon dioxide emissions, cleaner energy technology and alternative
energy options to fossil fuels. The two day conference precedes the
United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for Montreal, from
November 28 to December 9.
On October 30, days before the London conference, British Prime Minister
Tony Blair published an
article in a daily British newspaper, The Observer, entitled "Get
Real on Climate Change." In the article, he indicates that the
Kyoto agreement will not solve the global climate change problem and
the world needs advances in energy technology and more cooperation
from the U.S., China and India.
Society Supports Humans in space
After nine months of consultation, a Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
commission has recommended that the British government reevaluate
its long-standing opposition to getting involved in human space exploration.
As part of the explanation for the recommendation the commissioners
reported, "We find that profound scientific questions relating
to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond
Earth can best - perhaps only - be achieved by human exploration on
the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems."
The commission also pointed out that by not cooperating with space
exploration efforts that include the U.S., Europe, Russia, Japan and
possibly India and China, the U.K. would become increasingly isolated.
Another stated benefit of space exploration is the potential to increase
the recruitment of new scientists and engineers. To see the commission's
report go to www.ras.org.uk.
New German Government
Agrees to Increase Research Funding
The "grand coalition" government made up of Germany's two
biggest political parties has listed an increase in research funding
as its number one point of accord. Under the new agreement, Germany
pledges to invest at least 3% of its gross domestic product (GDP)
to research and development by 2010, 0.5% more of GDP than current
investments. The newly-appointed chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel,
confirmed the deal. Merkel holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and
is the first woman and the first scientist to be elected chancellor.
According to Science magazine, Annete Schavan, a former state culture
minister, is expected to be named the new minister of science and
Woolsey speaks on Behalf of Earth Science Week
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) delivered a speech on the importance
of Earth science education at an Earth Science Week event at the Bear
Valley Visitor Center at Point Reyes National Seashore on October
9, 2005. She addressed a crowd of about 60 scouts, parents, park staff
and visitors as she challenged young people to pursue careers in the
Earth sciences. Congresswoman Woolsey is a member of the Science Committee
and the Education and Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives,
and she has plans to introduce legislation that would encourage more
women to get involved in science.
Congresswoman Woolsey's speech was presented concurrently with exhibits
entitled "3D Geology and Natural History of the San Andreas Fault"
and "Name That Park!" prepared by Phil Stoffer (U.S. Geological
Survey, Menlo Park, CA) and Paula Messina (Geology & Education
Depts., San Jose State University). The outdoor exhibit was set-up
and operated by scouts and scientists throughout the day and viewed
by hundreds of park visitors enjoying perfect California weather at
This local event was one of many around the country that were held
in honor of Earth Science Week 2005, which was dedicated to raising
awareness about Earth science careers. Go to www.earthsciweek.org
for more information.
USGS Briefs Congress
on Interior's role in Hurricane Mitigation
On October 28, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with the Department
of the Interior (DOI) held a briefing on the role that the Department
of the Interior played in rescue and recovery efforts following Hurricane
Katrina. Representative James Moran (D-VA) opened the briefing by
reaffirming the importance of USGS data and encouraging more dialogue
between Congress and the geosciences so that the information gets
to the people who need it. Pat Leahy, Acting Director of USGS, described
how specialized geospatial maps, updated on a daily basis, helped
rescue residents and determine water levels for engineers dealing
with the dewatering of the city. Lynn Scarlett, Assistant Secretary
at DOI, said that over 2000 Interior employees were involved in search
and rescue, science and technological support, engineering, energy
recovery, and environmental management efforts following Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita.
Hazards Caucus Holds
Coastal Flooding Briefing
On November 1, the Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance held a House
briefing entitled "Coastal Flooding: Understanding the Hazard
and Protecting Communities." The well-attended briefing featured
speakers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
the United States Geological Survey, FM Global Insurance, and the
Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The speakers covered a wide
range of topics, including the lessons that can be learned from storm
surge modeling, the importance of natural hurricane barriers, how
levees can provide a false sense of security, and the economic and
environmental concerns that must be accounted for in coastal zone
management. More information on the briefing and the speakers' presentations
are available at www.hazardscaucus.org.
Holds Fifteenth Session
The National Academies' Disasters Roundtable held its 15th workshop
on October 18, 2005 to examine disaster law, its impact on public
safety, and the role of science in crafting more effective hazard-related
laws and regulations. Panelists presented information and case studies
on existing disaster law from the perspectives of local, state, and
federal governments, the insurance industry, and regional planners.
Discussion touched on the political unpopularity of risk-based pricing
that might hinder development along the coasts. Talks also investigated
how the formation of the Homeland Security Department changed the
legal authority of the federal government, in particular, weakening
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a mitigation-oriented
agency that works effectively with local governments.
The Disasters Roundtable is
a subset of the National Academies' Division of Earth and Life Sciences.
Each year the Roundtable holds three workshops in Washington DC, each
forum focusing on an issue related to the understanding and mitigation
of natural, technological, and other disasters.
AGI Welcomes Steve
Quane, the 2005-06 AGI Congressional Science Fellow
AGI congratulates Dr. Steven Quane, who was selected to be the 2005-2006
William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellow. Over the coming
year, Dr. Quane will be working as a legislative assistant to Representative
Tom Udall, a Democrat representing the third district of New Mexico.
Dr. Quane comes to Washington after teaching as an assistant professor
at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, CO. He holds a PhD (2004)
in volcanology from the Univeristy of British Columbia and a Master's
degree (1999) from the University of Hawaii, and he has published
numerous papers on experimental volcanology and the evolution of Hawaiian
volcanoes. He has a strong interest in geoscience education as well
as public policy related to seismic hazards, including warning systems,
disaster response and personal and government responsibilities.
Douglas, Our New Fall Intern
We are very happy to welcome Peter Douglas, the AAPG/AGI fall intern,
who joined the Government Affairs Program on September 12. Peter graduated
with a bachelor of science degree in geology from Pomona College in
Claremont, California in May. He spent the summer working as a Geological
Society of America GeoCorps volunteer in Oregon. In December Peter
will go to Namibia to teach English, science, and math for a year.
Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal
regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the
geosciences 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/frcont05.html.
Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also
available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
BLM: The Bureau of Land Management is issuing an interim final rule
to amend regulations for the leasing of hydrocarbons in special tar
sand areas. In this rule, the BLM amends its regulations to respond
to provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that allow separate
oil and gas leases and tar sand leases in special tar sand areas,
specify several oil and gas leasing practices that apply to tar sand
leases, increase the maximum size for combined hydrocarbon leases
and tar sand leases, and set the minimum acceptable bid for tar sand
leases at $2.00 per acre. Although the rule is effective upon publication,
there is a 60-day comment period. After the comment period, the BLM
will review the comments and may issue a further final rule making
any necessary changes. An electronic version of this rule can be viewed
at http://www.blm.gov. [Federal Register:
October 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 194)]
DOE: The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board will meet to discuss
technical and scientific issues related to the U.S. Department of
Energy's efforts to develop a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain
on November 8-9, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The board was established
by Congress in the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987, and
it is responsible for reviewing the technical and scientific validity
of activities undertaken by the Secretary of Energy related to disposal,
transportation, and packaging of spent nuclear fuel and high-level
radioactive waste. The meeting will be held at the Renaissance Las
Vegas Hotel; 3400 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information
visit http://www.nwtrb.gov. [Federal
Register: October 5, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 192)]
NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Science
Advisory Board (SAB) will hold a meeting on November 8 and 9, 2005.
The Science Advisory board advises the Under Secretary of Commerce
for Oceans and Atmosphere on strategies for research, education, and
application of science to operations and information services. SAB
activities and advice provide necessary input to ensure that National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) science programs are
of the highest quality and provide optimal support to resource management.
The meeting will be held at the Beacon Hotel, 1615 Rhode Island Avenue
NW, Washington, DC 20036. Refer to the web page http://www.sab.noaa.gov/Meetings/meetings.html
for meeting times and agendas. [Federal Register: October 24, 2005
(Volume 70, Number 204)]
New Updates to
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 Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs,
Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, and Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG
Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Congressional
Quarterly, The Coalition for National Science Funding, Hearing Testimony,
NASULGC Newsline, Department of Education, Washington Partners LLC,
Government Accountability Office, Royal Astronomical Society, Reuters,
Science Magazine, Lawrence Journal-World, National Center for Science
Education, York Daily Record, The Washington Post, The New York Times,
The Associated Press, The Observer, and BBC News.
TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, SEND
AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Posted November 4, 2005.