Monthly Review: November 2006
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.
The 2006 mid-term elections featured some very tight races and were
the most expensive in U.S. history. In the end, the Democrats gained
a majority in the House and the Senate, ending the Republican majority
control of about 12 years, excluding a brief and slim Democratic majority
in the Senate when Jeffords became an Independent in 2001. Polls indicate
that the war in Iraq and corruption in Congress were among the top
concerns of voters.
After the mid-term elections on November 7th, the 109th Congress
returned to Washington DC on November 13th for one week of work before
adjourning for the Thanksgiving Day holidays. Unfortunately not much
progress was made on the nine unfinished appropriations bills for
fiscal year 2007 leaving all of the federal agencies of interest to
the Earth science community with uncertain budgets. Congress will
reconvene on December 5th and they are expected to pass another continuing
resolution that will extend until February 15th. This will leave the
nine bills to the new 110th Congress to finish in January, 2007.
Such continuing resolutions are detrimental to federal support for
basic research, technological development and science and engineering
education. In many cases, government agencies that support science,
such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy,
the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Science Administration, will
experience reductions in available funds, will have to limit or delay
external granting opportunities and will not be as efficient as they
could be because of budget uncertainty.
AGI's Government Affairs Program issued an action alert on November
29th regarding the budget of NSF. In the alert, we encouraged all
citizen scientists to contact their congressional members and urge
them to complete the budget in a timely fashion. It is important that
members of Congress hear from you about the value of timely budgets
and stable funding, even if the 109th Congress does not complete their
work this year. Please consider communicating with congressional members
about the importance of timely, steady and increasing support for
research, development and science education now and in the future.
Members need to hear from their constituents in order to enact thoughtful
and effective legislation that benefits the nation.
On November 17, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released
a report entitled "Suggested Areas for Oversight for the 110th
Congress." The follow six policy recommendations affect the geoscience
Strengthen Efforts to Prevent the Proliferation of Nuclear,
Chemical, and Biological Weapons and Their Delivery System (Missiles)
Ensure the Adequacy of National Energy Supplies and Related
Assure the Quality and Competitiveness of the U.S. Education
Examine the Costs, Benefits, and Risks of Key Environmental
The full GAO report is available on the GAO website.
The Supreme Court heard one hour of oral arguments in the case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency on November 28, 2006. The case requests the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases, specifically exhaust emissions from new cars, as part of the Clean Air Act. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito spent much of the time asking Jim Milkey, an assistant attorney general for Massachusetts, whether the state had enough legal standing to bring the case forward. In particular, the justices wanted to know if the state would experience any imminent harm from greenhouse gases, which would give the state the appropriate legal standing.
When Gregory Garre, the deputy U.S. solicitor general representing
EPA took the floor to present the government's defense, Justices Anthony
Kennedy, David Souter, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent
much of the time asking why the EPA had changed its ruling on the
regulation of greenhouse gases. Garre insisted the Supreme Court should
not order EPA to re-examine its decision unless Massachusetts can
show the regulations would help to offset climate change. This statement
ignited a series of questions from the justices about how effective
EPA regulations would be in altering the effects of climate change
in Massachusetts. A decision in this case is likely to rest on the
votes of Justices Stevens and Kennedy, with Roberts, Scalia and Alito
favoring the EPA and Souter, Breyer and Ginsburg favoring Massachusetts.
On November 13, 2006, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
sponsored an informative congressional briefing on "The Stern
Review: The Economics of Climate Change." A flood of attendees
packed themselves into a Rayburn House conference room to hear the
highlights of this report from the United Kingdom, which compares
the economic costs of taking action to address climate change versus
those of inaction. Julian Braithwaite, Counselor for Global Issues,
Lauren Faber, Environmental Advisor, and David Thomas, First Secretary
on Energy and Environment, from the British Embassy summarized the
According to Faber, the Stern Review reports about 430 ppm of carbon
dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere today with a projected 2 ppm
rise each year, which would result in a 2-3º global temperature
rise over the next 50 years. If no action to address climate change
is taken, Stern projects 5-20% reduction in gross domestic product
each year. Yet, if international efforts are made to stabilize the
atmosphere between 450 and 550 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent, requiring
a 25% decrease in emissions compared to current levels, a 1% reduction
in GDP each year would result. Therefore, for every $1 the global
economy invests in actions to mitigate climate change, it will save
Thomas summarized Stern's three policy recommendations, including
pricing carbon in the form of trade, tax or regulation, continued
research and development, a five-fold increase in funding for a variety
of carbon-reducing technologies and the incorporation of efficiency,
awareness and education into any economic strategy. Stern reports
that the world is already locked into climate change for the next
20-30 years. Therefore, both adaptation and mitigation are needed.
Braithwaite concluded with an outline of future policy plans for
the United Kingdom. A statutory emissions target will be designated
for 2050. New climate change institutions, including one in the Parliament
will be implemented. Experts will produce an energy white paper for
government strategy on energy policy, and the European Union will
seek a dialogue with the United States. However, Braithwaite stated
that his nation only emits 2% of the world's carbon, therefore, "The
UK is one small part of a bigger equation to promote an international
The presentations from this briefing and the complete Stern Review
are available at the EESI website.
On November 28, the American Meteorological Society's Environmental
Science Seminar Series held a congressional seminar entitled "The
Divide between Values and Behavior: Exploring American Perceptions
of Global Warming and the Environment." The seminar featured,
Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, research scientist at Decision Research and
principal investigator at the Center for Research on Environmental
Decisions at Columbia University, and Dr. Matthew Nisbet, assistant
professor at the School of Communications at American University.
On November 14, in San Francisco, CA, the Center for Biological Diversity,
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace file a suit against the Bush Administration
for violating the Global Change Research Act of 1990. This law requires
a national scientific assessment of climate change and its effect
on the environment every four years. The last assessment, produced
during the Clinton Administration, predicted increased intensity of
storms, floods and drought, and a two to three-fold increase in heat-related
deaths. Following this assessment, the Bush Administration has spent
$2 billion in research to produce 21 reports from 13 different agencies.
However, it has failed to generate a comprehensive national science
assessment. Environmentalists have accused the Administration of suppressing
a crucial coherent synthesis on climate change and are asking the
court to demand that the Climate Change Science Program and Office
of Science and Technology Policy produce a second national assessment.
The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), a consortium of federal
agencies performing climate science, has established a synthesis and
assessment (S&A) program as a part of its strategic plan, mandated
by the U.S. Global Change Research Act. There are 21 S&A products
to be administered by 13 federal agencies over a five year period
covering a wide range of climate topics. The goal of these products
is to provide an objective assessment of the state of the science,
and its impacts on policy and decision-making for important societal
issues pertaining to climate change.
Higher oil prices have resulted in a push to explore unconventional oil reserves. The prospect of as many as 800 billion barrels of shale oil in Colorado's Piccance Basin, part of the Green River Formation of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, has sparked the interest of Chevron USA INC., EGL Resources INC. and Shell Frontier Oil & Gas Inc. On November 15, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced its plans to grant the three companies oil shale testing leases in the area after it approved environmental studies indicating that the project would lead to "no significant impact on the human environment." Companies will be required to monitor groundwater and minimize vegetation clearing which serves as habitat for migratory birds. These 10-year leases over 160 acres illustrate BLM's interest in spurring advances in extraction. All three companies are currently testing new technologies which would separate hydrocarbons from formations by heating shale underground. The leases are short-term so that companies can demonstrate the efficiency and economic viability of this extraction method.
Utilities will build thousands of miles of new high-voltage electricity
transmission lines across the United States in the next five to eight
years in an effort to ensure that overloaded wires do not cause costly
congestion, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates. While
demand for electricity may increase by 19 percent over the next decade,
the miles of transmission lines will only increase about 7 percent
according to the North American Electric Reliability Council.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered the
nomination of Kevin Kolevar, director of Department of Energy's Office
of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, to be the new assistant
secretary of Energy for Energy Delivery and Reliability. The new position
was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The new assistant secretary
would be responsible for a DOE report determining which areas of the
country would be designated as national electric transmission corridors.
Such corridors would give the federal government siting authority
over state and local governments. The controversial legislation was
included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to help ensure that transmission
projects move forward even if there is local to regional opposition.
Recommendations of national corridors are expected in December, however,
DOE has suggested there might be a delay so they can seek additional
More information is available from DOE's website.
A recent report from the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA)
asserts that geophysicist M. King Hubbert's "peak oil" theory
is based on unfounded beliefs that often leads to confusion in energy
policy discussion. The report, entitled "Why the 'Peak Oil' Theory
Falls Down," argues that peak oil advocates fail to consider
new kinds of reserves and technological advances. They estimate remaining
oil quantity based on proven conventional reserves that only account
for about 1.2 trillion barrels, while in fact, CERA estimates that
about 4.82 trillion barrels of oil exist worldwide in conventional
as well as unconventional reserves. Given that 1.08 trillion have
already been produced, the report concludes that 3.74 trillion barrels
remain and no evidence exists for any peak before 2030. The press
release and link to report (subscription required) are available at
the CERA website.
On November 16, The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation released a new report on innovation and competitiveness entitled "Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness. Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II". The report echoes the findings of at least 20 previous reports over the past three years from a variety of groups and coalitions. In a nutshell, the report requests greater funding for physical science research and development, greater incentives for students to pursue studies in the physical sciences and improvements in science teaching in grades K through 12. The report updates benchmarks, which measure U.S. innovation and competitiveness relative to other countries.
Benchmarks cited by the report include:
The report concludes: "Those who stand still will fall behind. The United States has been standing still in basic research in the physical sciences for more than a decade -- a decade of immense change and rapid growth in the global economy. The Benchmarks show that if the United States continues to stand still, it faces inevitable decline. Avoiding this outcome does not require huge outlays of federal funds - the research funds in the American Competitive Initiative, if approved, involve only about one-tenth of one percent of federal discretionary spending - but it will require a new attitude and commitment toward sustained investment in basic research. With this commitment, we believe that the United States can continue to prosper and lead in this still-new century."
To view the full report and additional information, click here.
The National Conference of State Legislatures released a report on November 27 stating that the United States, which once boasted to have the best higher education in the world, is now falling behind other nations. The report, "Transforming Higher Education: National Imperative - State Responsibility," declares that more Americans must graduate from college in order to maintain the required workforce and calls for state legislators to deliver results. A mere 18 out of 100 ninth graders in high school who attend college will graduate from college within six years. As tuitions are increasing, financial aid and loan programs are not compensating for the increase and many high school students cannot afford a higher education. Authors from NCSL's bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission of Higher Education called for fifteen policy recommendations for legislators, including setting clear goals and expectations for higher education, making higher education a priority for legislation, exerting strong leadership, and providing funding on a reactive, not strategic, basis. A press release and link to the full report (subscription required) are available on NCSL's website.
The science standards for public schools in Kansas have been rewritten
five times in the past eight years, primarily because of debates about
the teaching of evolution. In January, a newly elected Kansas State
Board of Education will take over and is likely to rewrite the standards
once again. The current standards emphasize controversies about the
theory of evolution and modify the definition of science to allow
supernatural explanations to explain observations. Members of the
new board suggest they will take several months to rewrite the standards.
They also plan to reconvene a panel of educators whose evolution-friendly
work fell by the wayside last year when the board's conservative majority
decided to adopt language suggested by intelligent design supporters.
More information about teaching evolution in Kansas is available from
the AGI Government Affairs webpage
The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) and the Interuniversity Consortium for Agricultural and Related Sciences in Europe will hold a conference on the science and education of land use. The conference will emphasize a transatlantic approach that combines a number of disciplines to tackle the issues. It will address key players in land use, consequences of business as usual, alternative measures and comparisons of US and European practices. The organizations are requesting abstracts for papers that highlight rational land use decisions. The abstracts should be no more than 500 words and be sent to email@example.com by January 22, 2007 for consideration. An announcement of the conference and a call for papers is available here.
The National Science Foundation is currently accepting nominations for the 2007 Alan T. Waterman Award. The award was established in 1975 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of NSF's first director. The annual Waterman award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF. Candidates may not be more than 35 years old, or seven years beyond receiving a doctorate. In addition to a medal and an invitation to the official award ceremony in Washington D.C., the awardee receives a grant of $500,000 over a 3-year period for scientific research or advanced study in the mathematical, physical, medical, biological, engineering, social, or other sciences at the institution of the recipient's choice. The deadline for nomination is December 31, 2006. For more information, visit the NSF website.
The American Geological Institute (AGI) is pleased to announce the William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship. The successful candidate will spend 12 months (starting September 2007) in Washington, DC, working as a staffer for a Member of Congress or congressional committee. The fellowship is a unique opportunity to gain first-hand experience with the legislative process and contribute to the effective use of geoscience in crafting public policy.
Minimum requirements are a master's degree with at least three years of post-degree work experience or a Ph.D. at the time of appointment. The fellowship carries an annual stipend of up to $55,000. Support for the fellowship is provided by an endowment, established through the AGI Foundation, in honor of William L. Fisher.
All application materials must be transmitted by February 1, 2007.
The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 11-15 December, 2006,
in San Francisco, California, will include over 100 sessions sponsored
or co-sponsored by Public Affairs, as well as workshops and other
events that connect science and policy. A special Union Lecture will
feature the Honorable Al Gore on Thursday, 14 December, speaking on
"Climate Change: The Role of Science and the Media in Policy
Making"(Marriott, Salon 8, 1230h -1330h).
DOE: In accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which directs
the Secretary of Energy to develop procedures for the acquisition
of petroleum for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in appropriate
circumstances, DOE is issuing the final rule governing procedures
for the acquisition of petroleum for the SPR, including acquisition
by direct purchase and transfer of royalty oil from the Department
of the Interior (DOI). This final rule is effective December 8, 2006.
For further information, contact Lynnette le Mat at (202) 586-4398.
NOAA: NOAA's Science Advisory Board open meeting will be held Tuesday
December 5, 2006, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday December
6, 2006, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott,
8506 Fenton St. in Silver Spring, MD. The most up-to-date meeting
agenda is available at http://www.sab.noaa.gov/Meetings/meetings.html.
For further information, contact Dr. Cynthia Decker at (301) 713-9121,
Cynthia.Decker@noaa.gov, or visit the NOAA SAB Web site at http://www.sab.noaa.gov.
DOE: The Department of Energy's Nuclear Regulatory Commission is
extending the deadline for public comment on High Level Waste Regulatory
Safety Interim Staff Guidance draft, "Preclosure Safety Analysis--Level
of Information and Reliability Estimation," on the Yucca Mountain
Review plan until December 13, 2006. For further information, contact
Jon Chen at (301) 415-5526, firstname.lastname@example.org.
NSF: NSF is announcing its intent to hold proposal review meetings
throughout the year to provide advice and recommendations concerning
proposals submitted to the NSF for financial support. The majority
of these meetings will take place at NSF, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington,
Virginia 22230. They will be closed to the public. These closed proposal
review meetings will not be announced on an individual basis in the
Federal Register, but NSF intends to publish a notice similar to this
on a quarterly basis. For an advance listing of the closed proposal
review meetings that include the names of the proposal review panel
and the time, date, place, and any information on changes, cancellations,
please visit the NSF website or call
EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory
DOE: The Department of Energy is announcing an open meeting of the
Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee on November
28, 2006 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. November 29, 2006 from 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, Main Ballroom and Quorum Room, 480 L'Enfant
Plaza, Washington, DC 20024. For further information, contact Neil
Rossmeissl at (202) 586-8668 or Harriet Foster at (202) 586-4541,
MMS: The Minerals Management Service is announcing public hearings
to address a draft environmental impact statement on tentatively scheduled
2007-2012 oil and gas leasing proposals in the Western and Central
Gulf of Mexico (GOM), off the States of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama. An electronic copy of the draft EIS is available at the
MMS's Internet website.
Public Hearings will be held on December 5, 2006 at Wyndham Greenspoint
in Houston, Texas at 1 p.m., December 5, 2006 at Riverview Plaza Hotel
in Mobile, Alabama at 7 p.m., December 6, 2006 at Hampton Inn and
Suites New Orleans-Elmwood in Harahan, Louisiana at 1 p.m., December
6, at Marriott Bay Point Resort at Panama City, Florida at 7 p.m.,
and December 7, 2006 at Larose Civic Center in Larose, Louisiana at
7 p.m. For further information contact Dennis Chew at (504) 736-2793.
NOAA: The Climate Change Science Program Product Development Committee
for Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.3 established on October 12,
2006 is announcing an open meeting on Monday, December 11, 2006 from
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. via teleconference. The most up-to-date agenda is
available at from NOAA's website.
For further information, contact Dr. Nancy Beller-Simms at (301) 734-1200,
NASA: NASA announces its completion of the final environmental impact
statement (FEIS) for implementation of the Mars Science Laboratory
mission. NASA will take no final action on the proposed MSL mission
on or before December 21, 2006. The FEIS is available in pdf format
at http://spacescience.nasa.gov/admin/pubs/msl/index.htm. For further
information, contact Mark R. Dahl at 202-358-4800, email@example.com.
PHMSA: The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration
is announcing the issuance of an advisory bulletin on pipeline safety
regulations and recommendations. This document is available on the
PHMSA home page at http://www.phmsa.dot.gov. For further information
contact Joy Kadnar, (202) 366-0568, Joy.Kadnar@dot.gov.
DOE: The Department of Energy is commencing a rulemaking to amend
the existing energy conservation standards for residential water heaters,
direct heating equipment, and pool heaters. DOE will hold an informal
public meeting to present its proposed methodologies on January 16,
2007, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT in Washington, DC. A Framework Document
from DOE is available at http://www.eere.doe.gov/building/appliance_standards
Written comments on the Framework Document are welcome and encouraged
and should be submitted by January 30, 2007. For further information,
contact Mohammed Khan at (202) 586-7892, Mohammed.Khan@ee.doe.gov
or Francine Pinto at (202) 586-9507, Francine.Pinto@hq.doe.gov.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs
portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly
Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press, ClimateScienceWatch, Washington Post, Greenwire, E&E Daily, Library of Congress, Congressional Quarterly, Department of the Interior, American Geophysical Union and American Meteorological Society.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted December 1, 2006.