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Monthly Review: December 2005


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


Final Congressional Budget Battles Sink ANWR

Congress ended December with a blitz of legislative maneuvers and classic battles among congressional veterans, finishing fiscal year 2006 appropriations on December 22 with the passage of two final bills, one for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies and one for Defense. President Bush signed the bills on December 30.

The defense bill included a controversial provision for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a 1% rescission for all appropriations bills and $29 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief. ANWR stalled the defense bill in the Senate as Senator Robert C. Byrd (WV) opposed the ANWR provision inserted by Senator Ted Stevens (AK) on a procedural rule, authored by Byrd, which does not allow extraneous provisions to be added to appropriations bills. Both made strong appeals to their colleagues to support their position and in the end, the ANWR provision was deleted from the bill along with 3 other provisions that were deemed to violate the procedural rule. The ANWR provision also provided funding for energy and mineral school education grants, geologic data and mapping and about $6 billion in hurricane relief funds for Louisiana from future ANWR royalties. All of these provisions were also dropped from the bill because their source of revenue was gone. After ANWR was dropped the Senate went into a prolonged quorum call when no legislative business could occur that lasted more than 8 hours. During this time, senators worked out compromises on the hurricane relief supplemental in the defense bill and concurrently compromises on the separate but highly controversial US Patriot Act reauthorization.

Eventually the Senate ended the quorum and completed legislation on the Patriot Act and the defense bill. Hurricane Katrina relief remained intact at about $29 billion in the defense bill. Specific spending in the supplemental includes $2.9 billion to repair and upgrade levees; $1.6 billion for hurricane-ravaged schools as well as schools that took in displaced students from the hurricanes; $11.5 billion in Community Block Grant spending; $2.75 billion to repair roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure in the Gulf Coast; $350 million to NASA to repair space facilities; $135 million to repair damage in national parks, wildlife refuges and forests; $30 million to repair waterways or watersheds; $618 million to help farmers and ranchers affected by the hurricanes; and $441 million for Small Business Administration disaster loans. The Senate then approved the defense bill by a vote of 93-0 and the House voted for passage a short time later.

Budget Deficit Bill Targets Student Loans

Congress completed a budget reconciliation bill entitled the Budget Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 by a very close vote just before they left for the end of the year holidays and a long recess. The bill (S. 1932) cut about $37.5 billion mostly from Medicaid, Medicare and student loans. The Senate vote was so close that Vice President Dick Cheney had to shorten his Middle East travels and return to Congress to cast the deciding vote and break a 50-50 tie.

The bill cuts about $12.6 billion from the student loan program over 5 years. The spending cuts will be achieved by increasing the interest rate from 7.9% to 8.5%, restricting lenders from getting 9.5% interest on loans financed by tax-exempt bonds, require borrowers to pay a 1% fee to guarantors and some other accounting practices. One positive note for students were increases to the loan limits, which will help students offset the rising costs of tuition.

Another ominous measure in the bill is a change in the $900 million for the Department of Education to administer the loan program from a mandatory spending item to a discretionary spending item. Funds for the administration of the loan program must be appropriated each year by Congress and in any given year, Congress may choose to provide less funding or in the worst case scenario, no funding.

The bill does provide $3.75 billion to create a new grant program to support low-income students who pursue degrees in the science and technology fields. The new Department of Education Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants program, provides supplemental grants of $750 to $4000 to Pell-eligible college students who major in math, science, engineering, technology, and high-need foreign language areas.

AAAS Summarizes Science Research and Development Spending for 2006

The American Association for the Advancement of Science tracks federal spending for science research and development every year and they have released a summary and detailed analysis of fiscal year 2006 funding, now that Congress has completed their appropriations. Overall federal spending for R&D will total $134.8 billion in fiscal year 2006, a 1.7% increase compared to fiscal year 2005, though much of this increase is for defense R&D and space exploration. Federal geoscience funding was mixed. The U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration, the Bureau of Land Management and the Smithsonian Institution received small increases in their overall budgets and a small fraction of these overall increases will fund geoscience R&D. The Office of Fossil Energy in the Department of Energy received large reductions to their oil and gas R&D programs, though many were relieved that Congress did not end these programs as requested in the President's budget. The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Minerals Management Service within the Department of the Interior also will have smaller budgets than they had in 2005. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) received a small increase to its overall budget, the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), which is supposed to be directed by NIST, received no funding. Finally the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) received a boost to its overall budget compared to 2005, however, because of many budgetary problems with the space station, the space shuttle and mission cost over runs, it remains unclear whether any of these increases will trickle down to geoscience R&D within NASA.

The AAAS summary and detailed analysis of R&D funding is available at:
http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/upd1205.htm

A summary of geoscience appropriations is available from AGI at:
http://www.agiweb.org/gap/issues/alphalist.html#approps

NASA Reauthorization Act Signed Into Law

On December 30, President Bush signed the NASA reauthorization bill (H.R. 3070/S. 1281), which authorizes spending priorities for 2 years. The law authorizes $17.93 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2007 (FY07) and $18.68 billion in FY08. It designates $6.17 billion for Science and Education, and $962 million for Aeronautics in FY07 and $6.76 billion for Science and Education, and $990 million for Aeronautics in FY08. Although the law sets spending levels, Congress must still appropriate these amounts on an annual basis and could decide to appropriate different amounts. The law also requires NASA to ensure uninterrupted spaceflight capabilities by accelerating the timetable in which the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will be ready to replace the space shuttle. The CEV was originally scheduled to be ready for flight in 2014 and Michael Griffin the new NASA administrator promised to advance that schedule to readiness to 2012. Congress however has requested the CEV be ready for flight in 2010 when the space shuttle is scheduled to be retired. It remains uncertain whether NASA can meet congressional expectations for spaceflight capabilities and the President's vision for moon-Mars exploration without a significant increase in funding above what is committed in the reauthorization act. There is considerable concern that funding for science and aeronautics programs will be shifted to space exploration programs to meet expectations.

The full details of the bill are available at http://thomas.loc.gov by entering either H.R. 3070 or S. 1281 into the bill search option.

Congressional Visits Day Scheduled for March 28-29

The 11th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) is scheduled for March 28 and 29, 2006. 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 congress. More information about CVD is available at http://www.aas.org/policy/cvd/. The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific research. If you are interested in attending the CVD please contact the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org so we can help coordinate your visit.

 

AGI Accepting Congressional Science Fellow Applications

The American Geological Institute is accepting applications for the 2006-2007 William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship. The successful candidate will spend 12 months (starting in September 2006) in Washington working as a staff member in the office of a member of Congress or a congressional committee. The postmark deadline for 2006-2007 fellowship applications is February 1, 2006. Prospective applicants should have a broad geoscience background and excellent written and oral communications skills. The fellowship carries an annual stipend of up to $49,000 plus allowances for health insurance, relocation, and travel. Interested candidates should submit a cover letter and curriculum vitae with three letters of reference to:

William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship
American Geological Institute
4220 King Street
Alexandria VA 22302-1502

Several of AGI's Member Societies also sponsor Congressional Science Fellowships. For further information, contact the American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America or Soil Science Society of America. AAAS also offers a number of fellowships for Congress and the executive branch. It is acceptable to apply to more than one society. Stipends, application procedures, eligibility, timetables, and deadlines vary.

For more information on the AGI fellowship and links to other fellowships visit: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/csf/index.html


NSF Requesting Your Comments on New Strategic Plan

As reported in a December 20 Action Alert, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is requesting input from the science and engineering community on their new strategic plan for fiscal years 2006 through 2011. The agency is specifically interested in comments regarding how the agency is meeting the current needs of the science and engineering communities. Comments will be accepted until January 20, 2006 and can be submitted at http://www.nsf.gov/about/performance/input.cfm.

The complete text of the action alert is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/nsfinput1205_alert.htm

Congress Reviews the National Environmental Protection Act

Congress is showing growing interest in revisiting and perhaps rewriting the nation's most comprehensive environmental legislation, the National Environmental Protection Act. The act was established in 1969 and most recently amended in 1982. The House of Representatives' Committee on Resources established two task forces (Task Force on Improving the National Environmental Policy Act and the Task Force on Updating the National Environmental Policy Act) to consider changes to NEPA. On December 21, the two task forces released a joint report and the report is open for public comment until February 6. All comments about the report must address specific recommendations and must be received in writing.

The 30-page report and instructions for submitting comments is available as a pdf document from the House Resources Committee web site at:
http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/nepataskforce/report/nepareport_finaldraft.pdf


International Year of Planet Earth, 2008

On December 22, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a Resolution by the United Republic of Tanzania and co-signed by 82 nations, to proclaim 2008 as the United Nations Year of Planet Earth. The press release stated,

"By a draft on the International Year of Planet Earth, 2008, which the Committee approved without a vote on 11 November, the Assembly would declare 2008 the International Year of Planet Earth. It would also designate the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to organize activities to be undertaken during the Year, in collaboration with UNEP and other relevant United Nations bodies, the International Union of Geological Sciences and other Earth sciences societies and groups throughout the world. Also by that draft, the Assembly would encourage Member States, the United Nations system and other actors to use the Year to increase awareness of the importance of Earth sciences in achieving sustainable development and promoting local, national, regional and international action."

Geoscientists and geoscience societies are strongly encouraged to participate in the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE).

More information about IYPE is available at: http://www.esfs.org/

Energy Department Revises Energy Prices Forecasts

On December 12, the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy revised their 20-year forecast on energy prices. They concluded that oil prices will remain near about $45 per barrel and average about $54 per barrel in 2025 compared to earlier projections of prices dropping to $30 per barrel. They also predicted lower prices for natural gas, falling from current highs of $14 per thousand cubic feet to less than $5 per thousand cubic feet as long-term demand, especially for electricity production wanes.

They also scaled back the expected growth of liquefied natural gas in the United States as worldwide demand increases, forecast that coal will remain the primary fuel for producing electricity until at least 2030 and predicted United States energy demand will increase by 1.1% per year until 2030.

The full report is available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/

Great Lakes Basin Water Compact

On December 13, the governors of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania signed an agreement on rules and regulations for drawing water from the Great Lakes watershed, the largest single source of fresh water in the world. The Great Lakes account for 20% of the world's fresh water and 90% of the United States' fresh water. The rules would limit Great Lake states, excluding Illinois, from withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons per day and would not allow communities outside of the watershed (again excluding Illinois and thus Chicago, which reversed the flow of the Chicago river in 1900 and removed the city from the watershed) to draw any water without special permission from the compact. The compact must now be approved by the 8 state legislatures and the United States Congress. The current Great Lakes Compact was approved by the state legislatures and given consent by Congress through public law 90-419 in 1968.

For the full text of the current Great Lakes Compact, please see:
http://www.glc.org/about/glbc.html

For the full text of the new, proposed compact agreement, please see:
http://www.cglg.org/projects/water/docs/12-13-05/Great_Lakes-St_Lawrence_River_Basin_Water_Resources_Compact.pdf

Evolution Round-up - Dover Decision

On December 20, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III barred the Dover, PA school district from suggesting intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution. Judge Jones wrote a critical 139-page opinion in Kitzmiller et al. versus the Dover Area District et al. that includes a definition of science, a description of how scientists work and an explanation of the differences between intelligent design and science. He wrote "The overwhelming evidence is that Intelligent Design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory," The breadth of Jones' decision will make it very difficult for intelligent design proponents to win legal victories in any future cases. The Dover Area School District, which has 8 new members after the November 8 election removed proponents of intelligent design from the board said they do not plan to appeal this decision. On January 4, the Dover school board rescinded the policy of presenting the intelligent design alternative to students.

Intelligent design proponents dismissed the Jones' decision as inappropriate and biased. Former Dover school board member, William Buckingham, responded to the Associated Press that "I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state." He added "We didn't lose; we were robbed" The Discovery Institute issued a press release stating that "The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific theory and even prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate,…" The Discovery Institute intends to continue its efforts to show that intelligent design is science even though it is not.

The full text of Judge Jones' decision is available at:
http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/educate/ktzmllrdvr122005opn.pdf

See "The Constitutional Debate over Teaching Intelligent Design in Public Schools" by Anne Marie Lofaso, published in December 2005 by the American Constitution Society for a brief and useful discussion of the differences between science and intelligent design and a summary of legal issues.
http://www.acslaw.org/pdf/Intelligent_Design_White_Paper.pdf

Multihazard Mitigation Report

The Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute for Building Sciences released their report on the cost of mitigation. The study shows that money spent on mitigation saves lives, reduces risks and reduces economic losses. On average for every $1 spent on mitigation, the United States will gain about $4 in future benefits. FEMA grants to mitigate hazards from 1993 to 2003 are expected to save at least 220 lives and prevent about 4,700 injuries over the next 50 years. Societal benefits from FEMA grants over the same period yielded a discounted present value of $14 billion compared to the $3.5 billion employed in hazard mitigation programs. The potential annual savings to the federal treasury is about $970 million compared to $265 million per year in costs for the grants. The council recommends that the federal government invest in mitigation on an ongoing basis before and after disasters, increase knowledge and promote institutional commitments to mitigation at the local level and support a structured process for the assessment of buildings and infrastructure before and after disasters.

The full report is available at: http://www.nibs.org/MMC/mmchome.htm

Record Breaking 2005 Hurricane Season Ends as Katrina Gets Downgraded

Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Atlantic Ocean on December 30 and became the long-lasting storm in January as it drifted northwest before petering out on January 7. This ended a record breaking year for the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Among the many records broken:

    • 27 named storms (previous record: 21 in 1933)
    • 14 hurricanes (previous record: 12 in 1969)
    • Four major hurricanes hitting the U.S. (previous record: three in 2004)
    • Three category 5 hurricanes (previous record: two in 1960 and 1961)
    • Seven tropical storms before August 1 (previous record: five in 1997)
    • Costliest Atlantic season ($107 billion+) (previous record 2004, $45 billion)
    • Costliest hurricane: Katrina ($80 billion+) (previous record Andrew, $26.5 billion - 1992 dollars)

In related news, on December 22, researchers downgraded Hurricane Katrina from a Category 4 storm to a Category 3 storm when it made landfall on the Gulf Coast. The change was made after researchers analyzed data from hurricane hunter aircraft, including from dropsondes, devices dropped into the hurricane that measure wind speed, temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure, stepped frequency microwave radiometers and radar images. The maximum wind speeds were probably about 125 mph at landfall. New Orleans, which is about 63 miles northwest of landfall, probably only experienced category 1 or 2 wind speeds. Ground-based anemometers measured maximum wind speeds of only 95 mph at a NASA facility in eastern New Orleans.

Going Back to the Moon

Paul Spudis, a lunar scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and a member of President Bush's Commission on the Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy published an editorial in the Washington Post on December 27, 2005 on why the U.S. should go back to the moon. He stated that lunar exploration was important for science, inspiration and resources.

The full text of Spudis' editorial is available at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2005/12/26/AR2005122600648.htm

Stardust Coming Back to Earth

NASA's Stardust spacecraft is returning to Earth on January 15 with the first direct samples of a comet and interstellar space dust. Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999 and collected interstellar particles before its rendezvoused with comet Wild 2 and collected cometary particles in January 2004. Stardust will enter Earth's orbit at an altitude of 128 km and a velocity of about 12.8 km/s, it will drop for about 3 km in a free-fall mode and then deploy a parachute to reduce its velocity for a soft landing. Stardust is targeted to land within a 30 km by 84 km error ellipse within the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City at about 5:12 am (Eastern Time). The samples will be sent to NASA - Johnson Space Center for analysis by geochemists to improve our understanding of the solar system's origins.

More information about the mission is available at:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/main/index.html

Geoscience Teacher Training Grants from NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Geosciences has initiated a grant program called GEO-TEACH. The program will support projects to improve the quality of geoscience instruction, primarily at middle to high school levels. The deadline for submitting a letter of intent is February 15, 2006 and the deadline for proposals is April 17, 2006. More information about the program is available at http://www.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=7472

Education Teachers Can Spend a School Year in Washington DC

The Einstein Fellowship program brings outstanding mathematics, science, and technology education teachers to Washington, DC to spend a school year working on Capitol Hill or in one of several participating Federal agencies. The purpose of the program, as stated in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Act of 1994, is to provide outstanding educators with an opportunity to serve in the public policy arena and to bring the expertise, unique insights, and know-how of classroom teachers to the Congress and appropriate branches of the Federal government. Application deadline has been extended until January 16, 2006. For more information go to
http://www.triangle-coalition.org/ein.htm

Government Affairs Program Welcomes New and Old Faces

AGI's Government Affairs Program welcomes Donald Juckett as the head of the AAPG Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, DC (GEO-DC). He retired in 2003 from Department of Energy, where he served as director of the Office of Natural Gas and Petroleum Import and Export Activities in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining DOE he worked for 14 years with Phillips Petroleum in various research and research management positions. The GEO-DC is housed at AGI's Alexandria, VA, headquarters. An AAPG Explorer article on the new GEO-DC is available at http://www.aapg.org/explorer/2006/01jan/juckett.cfm.

Margaret Anne Baker, who formerly worked for AGI's Government Affairs program before leaving to complete a master's degree in geology at the University of Maryland, has returned. The Government Affairs Program is delighted to have Margaret back and look forward to a great year. You can reach Margaret by email at mab@agiweb.org or by phone at 703-379-2480, x212.

Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geosciences community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont05.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

USDA/Forest Service: The Forest Service is seeking comments on a proposed change to directives related to activities that are categorized as having no significant impacts on the environment, meaning that these activities normally do not require further analysis in either an environmental impact assessment or an environmental impact statement. The proposed amendment would add a new categorical exclusion to facilitate the implementation of limited oil and gas projects on leases on National Forest System lands that do not have significant effects on the human environment. This exclusion will not apply where there are extraordinary circumstances, such as adverse effects on threatened and endangered species or their designated critical habitat, wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, wetlands, and archeological or historic sites. Comments must be received in writing by February 13, 2006. Additional information about this proposed change and about submitting comments are available from the Federal Register: December 13, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 238).

FAA: The Federal Aviation Administration published a 123-page proposal to regulate the budding commercial spaceflight industry. The rulemaking would establish requirements for crew training and qualification as well as establish requirements for space flight participants. Comments will be accepted until February 27, 2006. Additional information on the proposed regulations is available at http://dms.dot.gov [Federal Register: December 29, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 249)].

MMS: The Minerals Management Service is seeking comments on the development of a regulatory program to implement portions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 regarding energy development from sources other than oil and gas and alternate uses of existing facilities on the outer continental shelf. Comments will be accepted until February 28, 2006. [Federal Register: December 30, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 250)].


New Updates to the Website

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:

  • Action Alert: NSF Requests Your Input (12-20-05)
  • Hearings on Energy Policy (12-20-05)
  • Hearings on Water Resources (12-20-05)
  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (12-14-05)
  • Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (12-12-05)
  • Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (12-12-05)
  • Energy Policy Overview (12-12-05)
  • Public Access to Federally-funded Scientific Research (12-5-05)
  • Hearings on Hurricane Katrina (12-8-05)

Monthly Review prepared by Margaret Anne Baker and Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs.

Sources: Federal Register, Thomas, CNN, Washington Post, The Associated Press, and AAAS.

TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MONTHLY REVIEW, SEND AN EMAIL WITH YOUR REQUEST AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO GOVT@AGIWEB.ORG

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

Posted January 12, 2006.

 

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