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Monthly Review: November 2003


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

Energy Bill's Fate Remains Undecided
Omnibus Spending Bill Unveiled, Awaits Final Passage
DOE's FY 2004 Spending Bill Complete
FY 2004 Interior Spending Bill Signed By President Bush
Increased Funding for Science Education
Court Ruling May Effect Mining on Public Lands
EPA Unveils Science Inventory Database
EPA Accepting Comments on HazWaste Certification
Mercury Hearing Held in House
Timely Solar Storm May Save NOAA Center
Administration Settles Climate Change Lawsuit
Texas School Board Approves Textbooks
DOE Basic Science Research Not Visible
Memo Distributed on Lobbying Guidelines for AGI & Member Societies
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

 

Energy Bill's Fate Remains Undecided

As reported in an AGI Special Update, more than two months of closed-door negotiations between the House and Senate produced legislation that quickly passed the House on November 18th and seemed headed for a quick trip to the president's desk. In the Senate, Midwestern Democrats were poised to vote with the Republican majority thanks to large ethanol subsidies in the bill that benefited farmers. But the momentum vanished almost overnight, when an unlikely coalition of Republican senators from New England and the rest of the Senate's Democrats refused to end debate on the bill and take a final vote. Some of these legislators like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had concerns about the budgetary implications of passing a $31 billion bill. The New Englanders objected to a provision that would shield manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE, which has been linked to groundwater contamination, from liability.

The fractious nature of this debate was indicative of the bill itself, which included many singular provisions to garner support of a region or, in several cases, one lawmaker. But even with these "sweeteners" the bill could not get through the Senate. With freezing temperatures absent throughout much of the country and no spike in fuel prices, there is no public outcry to pass energy legislation. Instead, the bill will stay exactly where it is - teetering on the edge between passage and ultimate defeat until sometime early next year when Congress resumes and the Senate again begins to talk about the merits of the bill. Additional information about geoscience provisions in the energy bill can be found in the Special Update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_update1103.html.

Omnibus Spending Bill Unveiled, Awaits Final Passage

Also on the list of unfinished business is the remainder of the federal budget for fiscal year (FY) 2004, which began on October 1st. Congressional leaders had hoped to wrap up work on the government's financial plan before Thanksgiving. But prolonged fights over non-budgetary issues such as overtime pay guidelines, outsourcing of federal work and new Federal Communications Commission rules for TV station ownership forced House leaders to schedule a final vote for December 8th. The Senate plans to act the next day; however, a Washington Post editorial penned on December 1st cautioned that this process may "lumber" into mid-January.

Seven appropriations bills are still outstanding: Agriculture, Commerce-State-Justice, District of Columbia, Labor/Health and Human Services, VA/HUD and Independent Agencies, Foreign Operations and Transportation-Treasury. They have been combined into an 'omnibus' bill for consideration by the House and Senate. Lawmakers have also passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to keep the government running at FY 2003 levels through January 31, 2004 and allow plenty of time to craft a strategy to pass the bill.

The major details of the omnibus package have been released by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. All the numbers reported are subject to at least a 0.59% across-the-board cut, which could increase in final negotiations. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $5.6 billion, a $300 million increase over last year. That translates to a $220 million increase for Research and Related Activities, a $27 million increase for the Geosciences Directorate and a $25 million increase for the Office of Polar Programs. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Account is slated to receive almost $156 million, a $7 million increase over FY03. Earthscope is slated to be funded at $43.5 million, which is slightly less than the $45 million request but in line with House recommendations. Due to the Senate's policy of "no new starts" this year, neither the National Ecological Observation Network nor the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program's ship was funded.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $3.7 billion. Within that figure, $400 million has been set aside for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. NASA funding is equal to the President's request of $15.5 billion, $80 million above last year. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been allocated $8.4 billion, $375 more than the President requested but $74 million below last year's funding level.

More information will become available in the next few days about specific accounts funded within these Agency budgets. The Government Affairs Program will sift through the Conference Report and send out a Special Update with the specific information important to the earth science community. The Appropriations section of the GAP website will also be updated with this information. It can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004.html.

DOE's FY 2004 Spending Bill Complete

The Energy and Water Conference Committee completed its work reconciling the differing House and Senate appropriations bills in early November. On November 17th the House passed the conference report by a vote of 387-36. On the same day, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to President Bush for his signature. Generally, the final allocation meets the Administration's budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE), with adjustments for some programs. Total funding for DOE is $22 billion, an increase of almost $1.2 billion over fiscal year 2003 and $147 million below the budget request.

Within the energy supply account, renewable energy resource R&D will receive $344 million, which is $76 million less than last year and $100 million below the budget request. Much of the reduction is the result of the transfer of activities to the new Electricity Transmission and Distribution program. Geothermal technology development will receive $1 million more than the requested $25 million, but that is still a decrease of $4 million from last year. The conferees direct DOE to continue funding university research and Geopowering the West at the FY 2003 funding level. Hydropower will be funded at $5 million, the same as last year's allocation.

DOE's Environmental Management (EM) program includes defense and non-defense environmental cleanup as well as activities related to uranium facilities. In total, the budget request was $7 billion for these programs. The final bill will provide a total of $6.63 billion for defense environmental cleanup, which is $174 million less than the budget request. The non-defense programs get a boost over last year and are slated to receive nearly $503 million in FY04. This reflects a trend in EM programs toward tackling sites that can be cleaned up and put on a path to long-term stewardship first, then wrestling with sites that require long-term clean-up or isolation solutions.

DOE's Office of Science is funded at $3.45 billion for FY04, an increase of $140 million over the budget request and $156 million above FY 2003. Funding for basic energy sciences is $1.0 billion, slightly above the request. The chemical sciences, geosciences and energy biosciences account received $4 million more than last year, bringing the account up to the President's request of $221 million.

One of the major sticking points during conference negotiations was the major differences between the House and Senate bills regarding high-level nuclear waste disposal. The conferees provided a total of $580 million for nuclear waste disposal, $11 million below the budget request and $123 million more than fiscal year 2003. Despite the contentious funding debate (see AGI's October 2003 Monthly Review), no explanatory language about this funding level were included in the conference report.

Also funded through the Energy and Water Appropriations bill is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation at the Department of the Interior. Funding for the Army Corps would come to $4.57 billion. The Bureau of Reclamation would receive $948 million, an increase of $70 million over the President's request and $13 million above FY 2003 funding. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_energy.html.

FY 2004 Interior Spending Bill Signed By President Bush

President Bush signed the FY 2004 Interior and Related Appropriations bill into law (Public Law 108-108) on November 10th. The House approved the final conference report on the bill by a close 216-205 vote on October 30th. The Senate also approved the measure in an 87-2 vote on November 3rd. Information on how specific accounts fared in this process can be found in AGI's October 2003 Monthly Review or on AGI's web site at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/appropsfy2004_interior.html.

Increased Funding for Science Education

Federal investment in education was a priority again this budget year, and the Math and Science Partnerships programs fared well. Within the Department of Education, this program was funded at $150 million, a 50% increase over last year. It received $140 million within the National Science Foundation (NSF), a $12 million boost over FY 2003 funding.

On the heels of the second round of grants being awarded for NSF's Math and Science Partnership program, the House Science Subcommittee on Research held an oversight hearing on October 30th where schoolteachers and university representatives praised the new federal education program as a unique "opportunity to bring together partners across the community," to improve math and science education. To learn more about these Partnership programs, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/science_edu.html.

Court Ruling May Effect Mining on Public Lands

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision on November 18th stating that the Interior Department may not issue permits to hard-rock mines if they degrade or damage public lands, even if the mines are deemed to be essential. The Court found that Interior 's top lawyer in 2001 "misconstrued the clear mandate" of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA); however, the Court also noted that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the current regulations fail to prevent significant degradation of public lands, leaving ample room for the Department or the National Mining Association to appeal the decision to the Circuit Court. The decision was posted on-line at http://www.nma.org/pdf/legal/3809judgment_111903.pdf. More on mining policy at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mining.html.

EPA Unveils Science Inventory Database

For years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used an agency-wide Science Inventory to catalog current and past science products and activities. On November 18th, the Agency unveiled a searchable, Web-based format for the database that the public can use. The EPA plans to update the inventory as new information becomes available, making it a dynamic tool for planning, managing and enabling collaboration on environmentally related science that supports EPA's overall mission. The Science Inventory is on the Internet at http://www.epa.gov/si. Users can conduct keyword searches or can search within nine cross-cutting science topics: aging initiative, contaminated sediments, ecological assessment tools, genomics, tribal science, children's health, cumulative risk, environmental justice and non-indigenous species.

EPA also announced a new Human Health Research Strategy in early November. This plan will further the Agency's mission to protect public health by identifying and prioritizing the scientific research that will be conducted over the next 5 to 10 years in the fields of biology, ecology and other environmental sciences. The Strategy is available at http://www.epa.gov/ord/htm/researchstrategies.htm.

EPA Accepting Comments on HazWaste Certification

Until December 15, 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be accepting comments about professional certifications as related to hazardous waste facilities, specifically who may certify such facilities. At issue is whether only professional engineers can make these certifications or if Certified Hazardous Materials Managers or Professional Geologists are capable of doing so. If you would like to read the comment solicitation in its entirety, log onto http://www.gpo.gov. The request for comments was published in the October 29, 2003 Federal Register, page 61662.

Mercury Hearing Held in House

On November 5th, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment Technology and Standards held a hearing about the state of science and technology surrounding the mercury debate. The panel heard from academic, government, industry and environmental experts about the ongoing regulatory and legislative efforts to control mercury emissions from the utility industry. The testimony led members to conclude that there is "compelling evidence" of the health effects of mercury contamination. More information about the hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/cleanair_hearings.html#november5. AGI's coverage of mercury policy can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mercury.html.

Timely Solar Storm May Save NOAA Center

Our local star obtained the attention of policymakers on Capitol Hill with a huge magnetic solar storm that arrived at Earth in late October and lasted into November. This event served to underscore the importance and vital work being performed by the Space Environment Center (SEC), an agency that has been under attack this year as lawmakers look to trim spending anywhere possible. A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee report called for the activities performed by the SEC to be transferred to other government agencies. In a hearing, the Science Committee learned about SEC, the services it provides and its collaborations with other Federal agencies. Following the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) said, "It is clear from today's hearing that (1) the services that NOAA's SEC provides are unique and vital to our nation and its citizens every day, much more so than people realize; and (2) it is neither in the mandate nor the mission of the Air Force or NASA to take on these crucial responsibilities. Such a transfer would require significant cost expenditures above the $8 million sought by the Administration for the SEC. It would also undoubtedly cause a temporary to intermediate loss of space-weather forecasting services at a time when many critical U.S. industries and the public increasingly rely on these forecasts every day." Ehlers continued, "I believe this is a case of if it isn't broke then we shouldn't try to fix it." He further vowed to share these views with members of the Appropriations Subcommittee. To learn more about this agency, services it provides or the hearing, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/space_weather.html.

Administration Settles Climate Change Lawsuit

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market advocacy group, announced details of an agreement with the White House on November 6th, wherein CEI will drop its lawsuit against the Bush Administration. At issue was a Clinton-era federal report on climate change that included information not produced by federal agencies. Instead, it was written by a third party not bound by the federal Data Quality Act. CEI's chief complaint was that the computer models used in the study were unreliable and revised past climate history to incorrectly portray the 20th century as unusual. Under the deal, a disclaimer was added to the report. CEI issued a press release about the agreement that is on-line at http://www.cei.org/gencon/003,03740.cfm. More on climate change policy issues at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html.

Texas School Board Approves Textbooks

On November 7th, the Texas Board of Education voted 11-4 in favor of biology textbooks being considered for adoption. Anti-evolution groups had sought to have the Board reject these textbooks on the basis of what they claimed were factual errors. The Board's action clears the way for local school districts to adopt these textbooks and receive reimbursement from the state. In October, AGI partnered with the American Institute of Physics, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Astronomical Society to author a statement urging the Board to resist pressure to undermine the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks now under consideration for adoption. Each organization reached out to society members and scientists in Texas and urged them to sign on to the document. On November 1st, the statement was sent to the Texas Board of Education with signatures from over 550 Texas scientists and educators. To view the full statement and list of signatories, see http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/AIP-petition.pdf.

DOE Basic Science Research Not Visible

The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comments on a report titled, "Critical Choices: Science, Energy, and Security." Issued by a 14-member panel that DOE Secretary Abraham created last December, the report blasts the Department for being "badly managed, excessively fragmented, and politically unresponsive." It recommends DOE install an undersecretary for science, make greater use of peer review in selecting research projects and make a more concerted effort to repair facilities at the national laboratories. For a copy of the report, see http://www.seab.energy.gov/publications/FSPFinalDraft.pdf.

Memo Distributed on Lobbying Guidelines for AGI & Member Societies

Earlier this week, the AGI Government Affairs Program distributed a memo to the leadership of AGI's Member Societies with basic lobbying guidelines, including limitations placed on lobbying by the Internal Revenue Service, congressional registration requirements, and limits on gifts to Congress and the executive branch. The legal framework has not changed much in the intervening years since the original memo, and the basic conclusion remains the same: all of AGI's member societies can engage in and support more lobbying than they do now. The AGI memo is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/gapac/lobbymemo1203.html.

On November 30th, the Washington Post recently ran an excellent article on the subject of non-profit lobbying, entitled "The lobbying law is more charitable than they think." The article will be available for free on the Post's web site (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20633-2003Nov29.html) for the next 11 days.

List of Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont03.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

Department of Energy (DOE), National Energy Technology Laboratory Notice of Availability of Oil Exploration and Production Program Solicitation. Volume 68, Number 214 (5 November 2003): pp. 62567-62569

Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Notice of Open Meeting. Wednesday, December 3, 2003; 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, 480 L'Enfant Plaza, SW., Washington DC 20024. Volume 68, Number 220 (14 November 2003): pp. 64615

NASA Advisory Council, Biological and Physical Research Advisory Committee Meeting. Monday, December 8, 2003, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Holiday Inn Washington Capitol, 550 C Street SW.,Washington, DC 20024. Volume 68, Number 221 (17 November 2003): pp. 64917-64918

Department of Energy (DOE), Environemtnal Management Site-Specific Advisory Board, Rocky Flats. Thursday, December 4, 2003; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. College Hill Library, Room L107, Front Range Community College, 3705 West 112th Avenue, Westminster, CO. Volume 68, Number 222 (18 November 2003): pp. 65050

Office of Science and Technology Policy, Meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. December 2, 2003, Washington, DC. Monticello Ballroom (lower level) of the Wyndham Washington Hotel, 1400 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. Volume 68, Number 222 (18 November 2003): pp. 65070

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) Superfund Subcommittee Meeting. December 9, 2003 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and December 10, 2003 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Hilton Crystal City at National Airport, 2399 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202. Volume 68, Number 223 (19 November
2003): pp. 65277-65278

Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Information Administration Solicitation of Comments on the Policy for Statistical Information Based on Petroleum Supply Reporting System Survey Data. Comments must be filed by December 22, 2003 at Petroleum Division, EI-42, Forrestal Building, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20585. Volume 68, Number 224 (20 November 2003): pp. 65452-65454

Department of Energy (DOE), Enhanced (Engineered) Geothermal Systems (EGS) Research and Development (R&D) notice of issuance of funding. Volume 68, Number 226 (24 November 2003): pp. 65895

New Material on Web Site

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:

  • Energy Policy Overview (11-21-03)
  • Special Update: Final Energy Bill Passes House, Close to Senate Approval (11-20-03)
  • Mining Policy (11-20-03)
  • Asbestos Policy (11-20-03)
  • FY2004 Energy and Water (DOE) Appropriations (11-19-03)
  • FY2004 VA/HUD (NSF, NASA, EPA) Appropriations (11-19-03)
  • Clean Air Issues: Clear Skies Initiative/Multi-pollutant Legislation (11-18-03)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (11-13-03)
  • High-Level Nuclear Waste Legislation (11-12-03)
  • Mercury Policy (11-12-03)
  • FY2004 Interior (USGS, DOE Fossil Energy) Appropriations (11-11-03)
  • Summary of Hearings on Clean Air Issues (11-11-03)
  • State Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (11-10-03)
  • Climate Change Hearing Summaries (11-7-03)
  • Federal Science Education Policy (11-5-03)
  • High Plains Aquifer Legislation (11-5-03)
  • Geotimes Political Scene: Our Public Lands (by AGI 2002-2003 Congressional Science Fellow Larry Kennedy; 11/03)

Monthly review prepared by Emily M. Lehr and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Competitive Enterprise Institute, Department of Energy website, E & E Daily, Environmental Protection Agency website, Greenwire, House Science Committee website, National Mining Association, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website, NOAA Space Environment Center, Science, THOMAS: Library of Congress, Washington Post..

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

Posted December 4, 2003


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