Monthly Review: December 2004
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.
109th Congress Convenes
The 109th Congress officially convened on Tuesday, January 4th as newly elected and reelected senators as well as the members of the House of Representatives were sworn into office. After finally wrapping up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 budget process in December and resting through the holidays, members of Congress are ready to get to work. Many issues have already been declared priorities for President Bush, who will be sworn in for his second term at noon on Thursday, January 20th, including revamping Social Security, rewriting the tax code, limiting class-action lawsuits, and having the Senate confirm his judicial nominees. Congress, though, has some details to work out before they can actually begin working.
At the start of each new Congress, the majority must set the rules for the next two years. This means that each committee's jurisdiction must be clearly defined, chairmen approved and committee assignments doled out. While the minority party does not decide committee jurisdiction or chairmanships, the Democratic Caucus will decide committee assignments for their members. Senate Democrats began this process last month. The defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashle (D-SD) in the November elections left a void in the Senate democratic leadership's top slot. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has been chosen for the job and has given up his seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee but will retain the important Appropriations Committee perch from which he is able to fight the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
Other changes include the departure of Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bob Graham (D-FL) from the Environment and Public Works Committee, making way for new Democrats joining the panel - Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and freshman Senator Barak Obama (D-IL). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will see two new Democrats on the panel, including Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and freshman Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO). They replace Graham, Schumer and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). There are no new Democrats joining the Budget or the Appropriations committees, as the party's loss of one seat on each due to Hollings' retirement gives the Democrats 10 Budget Committee members and 13 Appropriations Committee members. Senate Republicans will begin doling out Committee assignments as early as the first week in January.
As is the nature of the House, when each new Congress convenes there are lots of decisions to be made about chairmanships, committee assignments and jurisdiction. This year, the House chose Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) as the new Appropriations Committee Chairman because Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) is stepping down from that post. The Appropriations Subcommittees may also have some new Chairmen in the ranks. There's a rumor that former Appropriations Chairman Young may want to head up one of the subcommittees, which would set off a furious round of musical chairs among the current chairmen. Also in limbo is the role of Rep. Jim Walsh (R-NY), who is term limited in his current post as chairman of the VA-HUD Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the NASA, National Science Foundation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annual budgets.
Further complicating this process is a rumor that surfaced following the Republican Leadership Retreat that the Republican Leadership is thinking about restructuring the appropriations bills. There's little rhyme or reason to the current way certain agencies are paired together in appropriations bills and the thinking would be to structure bills in a way that would better reflect Republican priorities. One of the bills being batted around within this idea is a Science bill that would encompass all federal science investment from NASA to the National Institutes of Health to Department of Energy and more. There are good arguments for and against this idea. An editorial appeared on the December 16th issue of Nature that concisely points out many of the concerns people have voiced about this idea. We'll know soon enough if this is a real change the Congress will make or another idea left for another time.
Department of Energy
A brief biography for Bodman can be read at http://www.treas.gov/organization/bios/bodman-e.html
Department of the Interior
In other DOI news, on December 1st, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton announced that she had accepted the resignation of Assistant
Secretary for Water and Science Bennett Raley who has held the post
since 2001. The Assistant Secretary for Water and Science discharges
the duties of the Secretary with the authority and direct responsibility
to carry out the statutory mandate to manage and direct programs that
support the development and implementation of water, mineral, and
science policies and assist the development of economically and environmentally
sound resource activities. The Assistant Secretary oversees the programs
of the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey.
In accepting Raley's resignation, Secretary Norton commended Raley
for his work on western water issues.
On December 17th the White House Office of Management and Budget
issued "peer review" guidelines aimed at formalizing the
process of science performed by government agencies undergoing outside
review. Science used by the U.S. EPA, the Department of the Interior,
the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to support
major rules and regulations will be subject to review by non-governmental
experts for the first time under these new standards.
As part of the formal response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, President Bush signed an executive order creating a new Cabinet-level "Committee on Ocean Policy" to coordinate federal ocean policy on December 17th. The executive order would direct Cabinet secretaries and officials ranging from the Commerce secretary to the national intelligence director to coordinate ocean-related matters and provide advice on ocean policies. The advisory body would be tasked with facilitating coordination on ocean matters among federal, state, tribal and local government entities. The group, to be led by the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is similar in concept to the commission's proposal for an executive-branch national oceans council. The commission had also recommended the president appoint an assistant to the president for oceans policy.
The Ocean Commission found federal oversight is too fractured to
protect ocean ecosystems that are being decimated by pollution, overfishing
and other factors. Among 200 recommendations, the commission called
for consolidating management responsibilities within the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and boosting federal
ocean research funding. The White House "U.S. Ocean Action Plan"
did not include recommendations to consolidate authority within NOAA
or move that agency toward independence, as the commission had called
for. The House and Senate are expected to sift through a myriad of
proposals toward that goal during the 109th Congress.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set the FY06 science budget by issuing a joint memorandum outlining the Administration's research priorities. Homeland Security R&D remains the Administration's top research focus. Also included in the list was Networking and Information Technology R&D and the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
A new emphasis area titled "Priorities of the Physical Sciences" suggests: "Priority will be given to research that aims to close significant gaps in the fundamental physical understanding of phenomena that promise significant new technologies with broad societal impact. . . . Priority will be given to those instrument- or facility- related investments with the greatest promise for the broadest scientific impact. Of particular interest are investments leading to the development of next-generation light sources." "Biology of Complex Systems" and, "Climate, Water and Hydrogen Research" round out the list.
The guiding memo is available at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/m04-23.pdf.
In September 2003, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign
Assets Control (OFAC) issued a ruling that scientific publishers would
need a special license to edit papers submitted by researchers from
embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, and Sudan). While the ruling is relatively
recent, the prohibition is not. It is illegal for U.S. entities to
provide services to persons living in countries embargoed by the U.S.
The issue surfaced in the summer of 2001 when a bank identified an
attempted transaction between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers (IEEE) and an institution in Iran. IEEE and other scientific
organizations began working with OFAC to clarify the definition of
"services," and learned that OFAC considered peer review
and editing of scholarly manuscripts to fall under the category of
prohibited activities. Until this time, scholarly publishers largely
thought these "services" were not prohibited by Treasury
Department regulations. The Treasury Department, however, affirmed
that its definition of services did include editing scholarly papers.
"U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive
or artistic alterations or enhancements of the manuscript, and IEEE
may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements,"
wrote R. Richard Newcomb, director of OFAC. Trade policy prohibits
"the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax,
grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons,"
according to an OFAC guidance letter. U.S. entities, including scholarly
publishers, would require a special license to provide these "services."
UNESCO has decided to dissolve the Division of Earth Sciences as part of a restructuring plan within the organization. Following the retirement of Dr. Wolfgang Eder (Division Director) at the end of November 2004, a decision not to replace the Director was made by UNESCO. Further, UNESCO intends to dissolve the existing Division, reduce funding to the geosciences and to reallocate existing activities amongst other divisions.
Although an "official press release" will not occur until this spring, it is thought that the following activities: International Geoscience Programme (IGCP), Geoparks, International Cooperation, Earth Observation and Capacity Building could be subsumed within the Division of Ecological Sciences. The Disaster Reduction program may be transferred to the Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences.
After decades of high profile success in science research within IGCP, this program will undergo a 50% reduction in funding from UNESCO for 2006. There are no assurances regarding the viability of the program beyond 2006. Many geoscientists around the world have participated in and benefited directly from IGCP projects and this funding cut will have serious long-term repercussions to the geosciences.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) announced an interim update of offshore energy resources that estimates undiscovered technically recoverable offshore gas resources at 406.1 trillion cubic feet. This mean estimate for 2003 is 12 percent higher than MMS's 2000 national assessment of 362.2 tcf.
MMS releases the broad national assessments every five years, while offering the interim updates "in response to significant information obtained from new exploration and development activity, and on occasion to incorporate major improvements in methodology and modeling."
Gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico account for much of the increase, with the new interim update showing total Gulf reserves at 232.5 tcf, compared to roughly 192 tcf in the 2000 national assessment. Increased estimates of so-called deep shelf recoverable resources, which are gas reserves more than 15,000 feet below the sea floor, contributed to the new estimates, according to MMS.
In other news, the interim update and information provided by MMS shows a 1 percent increase in offshore oil resources, to 76 billion barrels. That includes a jump of 1.2 billion barrels of estimated resources in the Atlantic Ocean based on the information gained from recent Canadian drilling, bringing the Atlantic total to 3.5 Bbbl.
Other areas were nearly unchanged, with the gulf and Pacific Ocean mean oil estimate slightly lower, while the Alaska estimate was a tad higher. The assessment cautions that some resources were not included in the new estimate because the figures take into account 2 billion barrels of oil and 8 tcf of gas that "were discovered and moved to the reserves category during this time period." The interim update does not address what portion of the reserves are currently commercially viable to extract.
The update is available online at http://www.mms.gov/revaldiv/PDFs/2003NationalAssessmentUpdate.pdf.
Scientists have long sought to ensure that public policy decision
makers have access to the best available scientific and technical
information, and that this information is used to inform public policy
decisions. According to many scientists, however, the process by which
the White House and Congress receive scientific advice is in need
of reform. On the heels of the release of the latest National Academies
report for improving executive branch science and technology advisory
panels and the process for recruiting and retaining senior executive
branch appointees responsible for scientific programs, the Federation
of American Scientists (FAS) has issued "Flying Blind: The Rise,
Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United
As for the President, the report calls for a strengthened role for
existing White House-level science organizations and the presidential
science advisor. More specifically, the President should seek passage
of legislation to "(a) establish a strong National Science and
Technology Council (NSTC) managed by a civilian executive secretary
appointed by the President, formalizing the role of the Presidential
science and Technology advisory; and (b) reauthorize the Office of
Science and Technology Policy as an office that would secure independent
advice through independent advisory boards, conduct timely assessments
of science and technology policy issues using both internal staff
and sponsoring studies in the National Academies and possibly other
organizations." Other recommendations are also presented. The
report is currently available online at http://www.fas.org/main/home.jsp.
The National Center for Education Statistics has released results
on the performance of U.S. students from the Trends in International
Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS, conducted every four
years, is an assessment of fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics
and science. TIMSS first collected data in 1995, and then again from
eighth-graders in 1999. With the 2003 data collection, TIMSS offers
the first international trend comparisons in mathematics and science
at grades four and eight. TIMSS measures how well students acquired
the mathematics and science knowledge that they have encountered in
school. That is, the content of the TIMSS assessment is based on the
curricula of participating countries. Because countries vary in the
ways in which mathematics and science are taught as well as the content
covered in their school-based courses, this means that the TIMSS assessment
should be considered a general indicator of the knowledge of a nation's
students. For example, in some countries, large proportions of eighth-graders
have been exposed to early and advanced topics in algebra and geometry,
whereas in the United States, a significant proportion of eighth-graders
have not yet been exposed to these topics, or have only encountered
the earliest notions. The following is a sample of the TIMSS results:
Reaction to the complaint was swift. A trenchant editorial in the York Dispatch began by observing, "The intelligent design/creationist clique on the Dover Area School Board now have the national media attention they've been angling for -- and so much for their mandated responsibilities to the students and district residents," and went on pointedly to describe the procedure for running for school board. Angie Yingling, a member of the Dover Area School Board who initially voted for the policy but later reversed her position and threatened to resign over the policy, told the Associated Press, "Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued." The Discovery Institute issued a press release calling on the board to withdraw and rewrite its policy. But Richard Thompson, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself as a "not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life," indicated that his firm would represent the Dover Area School District to defend the "intelligent design" policy. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Thompson acknowledged that "religious implications" of "intelligent design," but expressed confidence in the prospects for a legal victory. NCSE's Nicholas Matzke took a different view, saying, "Evolution is great science and this intelligent design stuff is religiously motivated pseudo-science," adding, "it seems like a pretty clear-cut case to us."
"All biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. The chapters shall convey the distinction between data and testable theories of science and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."
The second and third sentences, of course, are modeled after the so-called Santorum-language, present only in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Conference Committee for the No Child Left Behind Act and not in the act itself. The sponsor of the bill, Cynthia Davis, was a cosponsor of both of last year's "intelligent design" bills in the Missouri House of Representatives, HB 911 and HB 1722. HB 911 would have required "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools, and moreover would have provided that "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract" and "Each public school classroom in this state from grades eight through twelve in which science is taught exclusively shall post a copy of this section in a conspicuous manner." These draconian provisions were absent from its successor, HB 1722, but no action was taken on either bill before the end of the legislative session on May 14, 2004.
For the text of HB 35 as introduced, visit: http://www.house.state.mo.us/bills051/biltxt/intro/HB0035I.htm.
Nevertheless, the first draft of the standards, as submitted, was accepted by the board and is now scheduled to be discussed in public meetings around the state in January 2005; it will undergo further rounds of revisions and evaluation, with a final draft to be voted on by the board in June. A recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle advised the board not to monkey with the standards: "Evolution, like it or not, is a bedrock of modern science, in fields as diverse as paleontology and human genome research. It has revolutionized science and our understanding of the world. Every student should know and understand it -- regardless of whether they personally believe it. ... But the most 'scientific' of the creationist theories, intelligent design, has little support in the mainstream scientific community. So why would we teach it in our science classrooms?" As in 1999, the National Center for Science Education is working with concerned Kansans -- especially those at Kansas Citizens for Science -- to help to ensure that evolution education in the Sunflower State remains uncompromised.
"Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design."
Despite the welcome clarification in the last sentence, the singling out of evolution for special attention is still problematic. NCSE's Susan Spath told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "We'll have to wait and see what materials are produced" to implement the new policy. Signs are not good, though: at a meeting in late November, the school board allowed a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism to make a lengthy presentation and to screen a videotape, while denying requests to allow a biologist to speak at a later meeting.
In other news, on December 16, the Grantsburg school board received a letter signed by almost 200 members of the Wisconsin clergy urging the board "to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge." In all, about 3000 science professors, religion professors, science educators, and members of the clergy from across the state have signed letters of protest to the board about its antievolution policies, thanks in large part to the efforts of NCSE member Michael Zimmerman, the dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Grantsburg Superintendent Joni Burgin is reportedly unimpressed, however, writing in an e-mail to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "The amount of letters and the number of signatures does not matter. The school board feels that they must do what is right for Grantsburg students and the Grantsburg community." Concerned residents of Grantsburg are planning to hold a public forum on January 8, 2005, on evolution, creationism, and public education -- and on what is really right for science education in Grantsburg.
The 10th annual Congressional Visit Day is scheduled for May 10-11, 2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. CVD is an important opportunity to make science issues and science funding a priority for the 109th congress. More information about CVD is available at www.aas.org/cvd/. The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific research.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with Coastal America and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, invites students nationwide in grades 6-12 to participate in a contest to choose a name for a new NOAA ship. Ship names and supporting projects that capture the spirit of ocean exploration are encouraged. Generally, NOAA ships are named for mission-type, environmental phenomena, myths or traditions, geographical features, or former decommissioned ships crewed by NOAA personnel or predecessors. NOAA's new ocean exploration ship will be unique because it will be the only NOAA ship dedicated exclusively to exploration and research of our oceans. The new vessel will join NOAA's fleet, under the direction of NOAA's Marine and Aviation Operations. For more information about the contest, visit www.education.noaa.gov/shipname.
Johnson Controls and the National Energy Foundation (NEF) have announced the launch of the fourth Igniting Creative Energy Challenge. The Challenge is an educational competition designed to encourage students to learn more about energy and the environment. Students are asked to submit entries that reflect the competition theme, Igniting Creative Energy, and demonstrate an understanding of what an individual, family, or group can do to make a difference in their home, school, or community. Students may express their ideas on energy conservation and the environment in the form of science projects, essays, stories, artwork, photographs, music, video, or website projects. They may also submit recent service projects or results from the National Energy Foundation's own Energy Patrol activities.
"Students play an important role in energy usage which naturally
extends to our business of providing energy solutions," said
Jeff Crenshaw, Director, Public Sector Sales for Johnson Controls.
"As we introduce our fourth Challenge, we are continually impressed
by the excitement and creativity students and teachers exhibit in
showing ways to preserve the environment and conserve energy."
The Challenge is open to all students in grades K-12 in the U.S. and
Canada, excluding Quebec. All entries are due by February 19, 2005,
and winners will be announced on or about March 21, 2005. The Challenge
is sponsored and funded through an educational grant by Johnson Controls,
Inc. with additional support from the United States Energy Association,
and is administered by the National Energy Foundation. Official rules
about the contest and a downloadable entry form can be found at www.ignitingcreativeenergy.org.
Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community 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/frcont04.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program.
Sources: ABC News, American Institute for Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, Chronicle of Higher Education, Department of Interior, Discovery Institute, Environment and Energy Daily, International Union of Geological Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Roll Call, Triangle Coalition, Washington Post, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, York Dispatch.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted January 12, 2004