Printable Version

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.


Hurricane Katrina 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

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 Congressional opposition.

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 Budget Appropriations

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 Corps' budget.

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 to: Updates on ANWR specifically are posted at:


Federal Government 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

GAO Releases Report on STEM Education

On October 12, 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released "Higher Education: 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.

National Academy 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

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 to Congress.

Summaries of the congressional hearings are available at:

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 visit

Evolution Roundup

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

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 at

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 at

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 Enterprise Institute.

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 away.

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.

Royal Astronomical 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

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 education.

Congresswoman Lynn 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 the park.

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 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

Disasters Roundtable 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.

Introducing Peter 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.

Key Federal Register Notices

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 Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at

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 [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 [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 for meeting times and agendas. [Federal Register: October 24, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 204)]

New Updates to the Website

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site 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 Fall Intern.

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.


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

Posted November 4, 2005.