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Monthly Review: December 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.

Crystal Ball for Congressional Return in January
House Passes Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Senate Delays Action
Rocky Road Ahead for Kyoto Climate Treaty
AGU Releases Climate Change Statement
Scientists Sought for International Climate Change Report
Yucca Mountain Rail Routes Proposed
EPA Announces Stricter Mining Enforcement
Comments Sought on Fuel Economy Standards
AAAS Provides Forum for Post-9/11 Science and Security Issues
Grand Canyon National Park Selling Creationist Book
Congressional Science Fellowship Deadline Approaches
Summer Internship Opportunity for Geoscience Students
Congressional Visits Day Scheduled for March 3-4, 2004
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

 

Crystal Ball for Congressional Return in January

Representatives and senators will return to Washington on January 20th. Before tackling any new projects or initiatives, both houses must finish work on legislative items that were incomplete at the end of 2003. The Senate must tackle the fiscal year (FY) 2004 omnibus spending bill and may again take up comprehensive energy legislation upon its return. Both chambers must approve a major transportation authorization bill that was put on hold until the New Year. With the politically charged atmosphere of the 2004 presidential election, many insiders are predicting that passage of the energy bill, indeed passage of anything, will be difficult at best.

On December 9th, Senate GOP leaders tried to end debate on the House-passed consolidated spending bill, but Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Robert Byrd (D-WV) objected. Rather than bring legislators back to Washington for a series of roll-call votes, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) kept a promise he made shortly before Thanksgiving to keep the chamber out of session until January 20th. E&E Daily has reported that upon return, Frist plans to immediately hold a cloture vote to limit debate on the omnibus spending package. He needs 60 votes to move the bill out of the debate stage and toward approval. Given the fractious nature of the Senate these days, hopes that two affirmative votes are all the Senate needs to fund the government for FY 2004 may be just that.

A staff member for one of the appropriations subcommittees opined during the recess that in order to bring more people on board with the bill, the conference may have to be reconvened and money moved from one account to another. It is also possible that no resolution will be reached before January 31st when the government ceases to be funded at last year's spending levels. No one truly believes that the government will be unfunded and thus shut down. Instead, some have predicted that those agencies without a FY 2004 budget could simply be funded at FY 2003 levels until the end of the 2004 fiscal year on September 30th (a full-year continuing resolution). By then, hopefully, Congress will have approved FY 2005 funding. In either of these scenarios, the House would have to revisit the altered spending legislation when it reconvenes on January 20th.

The energy bill stalled on November 25th when an attempt to end debate failed by two votes. Since that time, the hunt has been on to find those two votes and move the bill toward passage. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) voted in favor of moving the bill forward because it contains huge ethanol subsidies that are very important to the agriculture-intensive state of South Dakota. However, Daschle has been unsuccessful recruiting more yes votes largely because of a provision limiting liability for MTBE producers that has left a sour taste in the mouths of New England Democrats and Republicans alike. At an end-of-session news conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Daschle said that as the GOP controls both houses of Congress and the White House, "I find it interesting that it's my responsibility to pass legislation." Daschle continued: "Of course, I want to see [the energy bill] passed," but it is up to the Republicans to "take out all these sops to the special interests."

House Passes Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Senate Delays Action

An AGI Special Update on December 11th reported on spending levels for geoscience-related programs contained in the FY 2004 consolidated appropriations bill (H.R. 2673), which was approved by the House of Representatives on December 8th by a vote of 242-176. As noted above, the Senate declined to vote on the bill until January 20th, leaving the $328 billion bill in limbo. This legislation combines seven separate appropriations bills that provide funding for the bulk of the federal departments and agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA, EPA and the Departments of Education and Agriculture. AGI's Special Update can be accessed at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/omnibus_update1203.html

Rocky Road Ahead for Kyoto Climate Treaty

In early December, negotiators at the Ninth Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-9), in Milan, Italy, reached agreement on how countries can earn emissions credits under the Kyoto Protocol through forest preservation and reforestation projects. Ambassadors were also working on details of a climate change fund that would reimburse poorer nations adversely affected by severe weather events, with OPEC nations arguing they should also be eligible for compensation. But these developments were overshadowed by the announcement that Russia would not approve the Kyoto accord. Without Russia's participation, the treaty's ratification would fail because its signatory nations do not produce at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenwire reported that many Americans attending the conference -- including congressional staff and representatives from industry and environmental groups -- found Russian ratification to be only one issue potentially undermining the treaty. According to these sources, equally important is the fact that many signatory nations will likely fail to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2012, while other major carbon dioxide emitters like the United States, India and China are years away from re-entering global climate change negotiations. The executive director of the U.S.-based Climate Policy Center, Lee Lane, told Greenwire that "the real takeway message is simply the process of Kyoto is in profound disarray. People should be asking themselves whether this is a process that has much of a future." Further, Lane came away feeling that the technical issues aren't very important. Instead, "the serious question is how do we get the important non-participants into the process on emissions controls."

For more information about climate change policy, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/climate.html.

AGU Releases Climate Change Statement

At a December 16th press conference, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) released a new position statement on human climate impacts that concludes: "The global climate is changing and human activities are contributing to that change." According to the chair of the panel that drafted the statement -- Marvin Geller, an atmospheric scientist at Stony Brook University in New York -- the AGU statement is consistent with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and National Research Council reports as well as the Bush administration climate change science plan. John Christy, director of the Earth Systems Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and a member of the panel, told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington: "As a climate scientist, you do come to the conclusion that physically the system is changing due to the things that humans have done."

The new position statement, adopted by the AGU Council the previous week, replaces a 1998 statement on climate change that focused solely on greenhouse gases rather than the full range of human impacts, including air pollution and land-use changes. The statement is available at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2003-13.msg . A Geotimes web extra on the press conference can be found at http://www.geotimes.org/current/WebExtra121903.html.

Scientists Sought for International Climate Change Report

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program is seeking experts as coordinating lead authors, lead authors, contributing authors, expert reviewers, and review editors for the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Through three working groups assessing the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to the risk of human-induced climate change, the IPCC provides advice to the world community, and in particular to the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The IPCC will complete the AR4 in 2007. Nominations for these positions must be completed by noon on Monday, January 5, 2004. To access information about how to nominate someone as an author, reviewer or editor, see the IPCC Secretariat's website http://www.ipcc.ch/ar4/nominations/nominations.htm or http://www.climatescience.gov/matescience.gov/.

Yucca Mountain Rail Routes Proposed

On December 23rd, the Energy Department released two proposed new rail routes for nuclear waste to travel to the planned Yucca Mountain repository. According to Greenwire, the preferred route, dubbed the "Caliente Corridor," runs for 319 miles from the town of Caliente in east-central Lincoln County, west and then south, skirting Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas. The second route, the "Carlin Corridor" would go south through Nye County. "The attributes of these corridors lead us to be of the view that they will best assure the safe, secure and timely transport of materials to Yucca Mountain," said Yucca Mountain Project Director Margaret Chu. Susan Voyles of the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that building the new lines will cost an estimated $880 million.

Nevada officials were angered by the near-Christmas announcement and criticized the plan, alleging it was unsafe. "They could walk it, fly it, waltz it, truck it or send it here by rail," Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) told the Las Vegas Sun. "It doesn't make it any safer. This is an open invitation to terrorists around the world." Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as saying, "The Department of Energy does not have a license to open a nuclear waste dump, and releasing a preferred route puts them nowhere closer to that ability."

The Yucca Mountain project is now in the licensing phase, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. More information and background on Yucca Mountain is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/yucca.html.

EPA Announces Stricter Mining Enforcement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft notice in the Federal Register on December 10th stating its intentions to enforce hazardous waste and environmental justice complaints over the next three years. Among other things, regulators in the field have told EPA headquarters that the mining and minerals industry is a particular problem because a number of facilities are operating in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. According to the notice: "Evidence gathered in recent inspections indicates that mineral processing facilities are failing to obtain the necessary permits and adequately manage their wastes." Mishandling of these wastes has "caused fish kills and the arsenic and cadmium that these wastes often contain have been found in elevated levels in residential drinking water wells," the notice says. Comments or recommendations about this notice are welcome if submitted on or before January 12, 2004. The Federal Register Notice contains all the information about how to comment and is available online at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2003/pdf/03-30593.pdf . To read more about mining on AGI's website, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mining.html .

Comments Sought on Fuel Economy Standards

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on December 22nd that it is seeking comments from the public on ways to improve on the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) regulations. Currently under CAFÉ, an automobile manufacturer's fleet of light trucks has to average 20.7 miles per gallon while passenger cars have to average 27.5 miles per gallon. That distinction has meant auto manufacturers are not tied to the tougher efficiency requirements when making sport utility vehicles, which are classified as light trucks even though they are typically used as passenger vehicles. The Bush administration has signaled that it may regulate fuel economy in the future by dividing light trucks by weight instead of using fleet-wide standards. The downside to that idea is that manufacturers may be tempted to just build lighter trucks, thus jeopardizing safety. Another way to restructure the CAFE program so manufacturers don't just build lighter vehicles is to judge light trucks' fuel economy as compared with other vehicles similar in weight or size, rather than calculating an automakers' fleet-wide average. The Japanese currently use a similar system and have found that manufacturers are choosing to increase the weight of the truck so it would be included in a heavier weight class and be subject to lower fuel efficiency requirements.

According to a statement released by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, this advanced notice of proposed rulemaking is intended to open a national dialogue on how best to reform the standards. He stressed that "we can and must work together to save more fuel, increase passenger safety and protect American jobs." To read the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking and get information about how to comment, see http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/CAFE/Rulemaking/ANPRM_Dec-22-2003.pdf .

AAAS Provides Forum for Post-9/11 Science and Security Issues

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched a new website on Science and National Security in the Post-9/11 Environment. The site provides overviews of five major security-related issues facing the scientific community and a contact page for scientists to report ways in which they or their colleagues have been affected by post-9/11 security policies. There are also links to related projects at other organizations. To log on, go to http://www.aaas.org/spp/post911.html.

Grand Canyon National Park Selling Creationist Book

On December 16th, the presidents of AGI and six of its member societies sent a letter to the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park expressing concern that a young-Earth creationist book -- Grand Canyon: A Different View -- was being sold at park bookstores as a source of scientific information about the canyon's history. The Christian Broadcasting Network's online bookstore describes the book by Colorado River guide Tom Vail: "According to a biblical time scale, the Grand Canyon can't possibley [sic] be more than a few thousand years old, and that is what Tom now believes...[T]his book also has many facts about the Grand Canyon presented in a biblical light." As a unique geological wonder that receives over four million visitors per year, the Grand Canyon represents an unparalleled opportunity to educate our nation's citizens about earth science, but the opportunity is compromised by the National Park Service's apparent endorsement of this religious text as science.

The letter from the presidents of AGI, the American Geophysical Union, Association of American State Geologists, Geological Society of America, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Paleontological Society, and Society for Vertebrate Paleontology is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/evolution/index.html. A similar letter has been sent by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. AGI is also looking into a report by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that "Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis." A review of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Wilf Elders that appeared in Eos can be viewed at http://www.agu.org/journals/eo/eo0338/2003EO380005.pdf#anchor.

Congressional Science Fellowship Deadline Approaches

The deadline is coming up for next year's congressional science fellowships offered by AGI and several of its member societies. These fellowships provide opportunities for qualified geoscientists to spend a year working as professional staff in congressional committees and the personal offices of representatives and senators. The application deadline for AGI's William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship is February 1, 2004. Similar fellowships are available from the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America/U.S. Geological Survey, and the Soil Science Society of America. Geoscientists are also eligible for a wide array of congressional and federal agency fellowships offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Stipends, application procedures, qualifications, timetables, and deadlines vary. For further information, visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/csf/index.html, which includes links to the other AGI member society fellowships, and http://fellowships.aaas.org. Geoscientists are encouraged to apply to all fellowships for which they qualify.

Summer Internship Opportunity for Geoscience Students

AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a twelve-week geoscience and public policy internship in summer 2004. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their writing and Web-publishing skills. Stipends for the summer interns are funded jointly by the AIPG Foundation and AGI. Applications must be postmarked by March 15, 2004. For more information, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/interns/index.html.

Congressional Visits Day Scheduled for March 3-4, 2004

Looking ahead, AGI is asking geoscientists to attend the 9th annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington on March 3 - 4, 2004. This event brings over 200 scientists and engineers to Capitol Hill to visit Members of Congress and their staff early in the congressional budget cycle in an effort to increase federal investment in science. AGI would like to see a strong contingent of geoscientists at this event. We especially encourage Member Society leaders to consider it. Attendees spend the first day receiving briefings from federal agency officials and congressional staff followed by a day of visits. This year's visits will also have an air of festivity as March 3rd kicks off the U.S. Geological Survey's 125th anniversary celebration. More at http://www.setcvd.org.

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 Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Notice of Proposed Changes and Request for Comments on the National Handbook of Conservation Practices. Comments must be filed within 30 days with William Hughey, National Agricultural Engineer, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Post Office Box 2890, Room 6139-S, Washington, DC 20013-2890. The telephone number is (202) 720-5023. Volume 68, Number 230 (1 December 2003): pp.67146-67147

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Policy and International Affairs Proposed rule and opportunity for public comment on the General Guidelines for Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Reporting. Comments must be filed by February 3, 2004 with Mark Friedrichs, PI-40; Office of Policy and International Affairs; U.S. Department of Energy; Room 1E190, 1000 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20585. Oral views and data may be presented at a public workshop on January 12, 2004 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Washington Plaza Hotel, 10 Thomas Circle, NW., Massachusetts Avenue at 14th Street, Washington, DC 20005. Volume 68, Number 234 (5 December 2003): pp. 68203-68231

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Solicitation of recommendations and comments on Preliminary National Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priorities for Fiscal Years 2005, 2006 and 2007. Comments must be filed by January 12, 2004 with the Enforcement & Compliance Docket and Information Center (2201T). Docket Number OECA-2003-0154. Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Penn. Ave., NW., Washington, DC
20460. Volume 68, Number 237 (10 December 2003): pp. 68893-68896

Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Final Rule Issued on the Revision of Requirements Governing Outer Continental Shelf Rights-of-Use and Easement and Pipeline Rights-of-Way for Oil and Gas and Sulphur Operations in the Outer Continental Shelf. Volume 68, Number 239 (12 December 2003): pp. 69308-69312

Council on Environmental Quality National Environmental Policy Act Task Force Notice of Public Meeting. January 8 and 9, 2004. Copper Mountain Conference Center, Copper Mountain, Colorado. Volume 68, Number 241 (16 December 2003): pp. 70013-70014

National Science Foundation Earthscope Science and Education Advisory Committee Notice of Meeting. January 21 - 24, 2004. Sheraton 4-Points Hotel, 1201 K Street NW., Washington, DC. Volume 68, Number 247 (24 December 2004): pp. 74652-74653

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:

  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (12-23-03)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (12-22-03)
  • Energy Policy Overview (12-22-03)
  • Mercury Policy (12-22-03)
  • Natural Gas Policy (12-22-03)
  • Public Access to Federally Funded Scientific Research (12-12-03)
  • Special Update: House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill, Senate Will Wait Until January (12-11-03)
  • FY2004 Labor/HHS (Education) Appropriations (12-10-03)
  • FY2004 VA/HUD (NSF, NASA, EPA) Appropriations (12-10-03)
  • FY2004 Agriculture Appropriations (12-10-03)
  • FY2004 Commerce (NOAA) Appropriations (12-10-03)
  • Geotimes Political Scene: Water is for Fightin' (12/03)
  • Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (11-26-03)
  • Asbestos Policy (11-26-03)

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

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, Associated Press, Climate Alliance, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Reno Gazette-Journal, The Washington Post, THOMAS legislative database, United States Climate Change Science Program.

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

Posted December 31, 2003