The American Geosciences Institute’s monthly review of geosciences and policy 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. The current monthly review and archived monthly reviews are all available online. Subscribe to receive the Government Affairs Monthly Review by email.
The American Geosciences Institute is accepting applications for the 2012-2013 William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship. Congressional fellows spend one year in Washington, DC working as a staff member in the office of a member of Congress or in a congressional committee. The fellowship represents a unique opportunity to gain first-hand experience with the federal legislative process and make practical contributions to the effective and timely use of geoscientific knowledge on issues relating to the environment, resources, natural hazards, and federal science policy. The application deadline is February 1, 2012.
Geoscientists are invited to join organized groups of scientists and engineers for the upcoming Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (SET-CVD) on April 24-25, 2012. Decision makers need to hear from geoscientists. Become a citizen geoscientist and join many of your colleagues for a workshop at AGU headquarters followed by a day conducting visits with members of Congress or congressional staff on Capitol Hill to speak on the importance of geoscience research, development, and education. SET-CVD involves a multi-sector and multi-disciplinary coalition of companies, professional societies and educational institutions. Lots of geoscientists come through AGI and other geosciences societies. See summaries of past SETCVDs at AGI’s events page.
When the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (P.L. 111-358) was signed into law in early 2011, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was called upon to compile a detailed catalogue of all federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. OSTP has released “The Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Portfolio,” which provides a list of all STEM education investments undertaken by federal agencies. The list was compiled by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council, and is the most detailed inventory of federal STEM education to date.
The portfolio, within which CoSTEM developed a precise definition of STEM education and a comprehensive survey instrument to collect data about programs, says the federal government draws upon a wide range of unique assets to support STEM education.
According to the portfolio, federal investment in STEM education for fiscal year 2010 was $3.4 billion, accounting for only 0.3 percent of total investment in education ($1.1 trillion). Because two thirds of the $3.4 billion was spent on broad STEM education investments, the America COMPETES Act requested CoSTEM to develop a five-year, cross-agency STEM education strategic plan to target a more specific portfolio of STEM education investments. Through this strategic plan, OSTP hopes to consolidate programs, create joint solicitations across agencies, and develop procedures for sharing program data and performance evaluations.
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358) directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director to establish a working group within the National Science and Technology Council “to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies.” The Interagency Working Group on Digital Data has extended the deadline for its Request for Information (RFI) that seeks individuals or organizations to provide recommendations and options for implementing the digital data policy and standards requirements of the reauthorization. Ultimately, OSTP will implement a clearinghouse with information on the contents of, and access to, federal scientific collections. Public comments are due on or before January 12, 2012.
Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (H.R. 2055) on December 17 and President Obama signed the measure into law (Public Law 112-74) on December 23, long after the start of fiscal year (FY) 2012 on October 1, 2011. The omnibus measure provides appropriations for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Education. Other science agencies were funded in an earlier measure. Summaries of the FY2012 budgets of geosciences-related agencies are available from the American Geosciences Institute Overview of Appropriations.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) received another short-term extension in the December 23 omnibus, or the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055), which authorized the bankrupt program to keep running until May 31, 2012. NFIP has been relying on short-term extensions for the past few years though attempts to pass a long-term authorization have been introduced. As the deadline for passing an extension came closer to the program’s expiration at midnight of December 23, 2011, members of Congress began introducing bills to extend the program. Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced a bill (S. 1958) to extend NFIP to May 31, 2012 which passed the Senate quickly by voice vote. Senator Vitter had attempted to pass a bill (S. 1864) extending the NFIP to September 30, 2012 but did not gather any cosponsors. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced the House version (H.R. 3628) of the Senate bill on December 8 but the House took no action. Ultimately, Vitter’s language to extend NFIP until May 31, 2012 was included in H.R. 2055 and passed on December 23.
The Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act of 2011 (H.R. 3433) was introduced by Representative James Lankford (R-OK) on November 16 and passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the next day. The bill would require the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to upgrade existing public web sites for finding, reviewing, and applying for federal grant opportunities so that they would provide full access to detailed information about the individual grants. It would require the disclosure of the name, title, and employer of all individuals who serve as reviewers. During the mark up, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) offered an amendment to strike language requiring the “name, title, and employer” of individuals who serve as reviewers. Cummings’ amendment passed by voice vote but was later overturned by Lankford who succeeded in retaining the language though he added “or unique identifier” after “name.” The proposed web site would provide a copy of the final grant agreement, a copy of all proposals, applications, or plans submitted for the grant, the numerical ranking of the grant by reviewers, and a justification from the reviewers if the award of the grant does not coincide with the numerical rankings. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), an original cosponsor of the bill, said the GRANT Act “lifts a veil of secrecy” surrounding federal grants.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed four energy bills and approved a nomination in December. Arun Majumdar, current director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), was nominated by President Obama to fill the vacant position of Undersecretary of Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE) and approved by the committee on December 15. Majumdar’s nomination must now be approved by the full Senate.
The number of Senate Democrats retiring continues to rise with the December 27 announcement that Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) will not seek reelection in 2012. There are 33 elections that will take place in November 2012 for the Senate. Nine of these races will fill an open seat created by retirements. Six of the nine retirements will be Democrats including Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), chairman of the Budget Committee. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Minority Whip, are the two Republicans not seeking reelection. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will not seek reelection either.
After spending nearly six weeks in August and September in the Arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent have returned to port marking the completion of a five-year joint effort between the United States and Canada to collect scientific data to delineate the extended continental shelf (ECS). This joint effort was undertaken to leverage the costs required to collect the data needed to delineate the boundary between Canada and the U.S. and to determine the extent of the continental shelf in relation to the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) was adopted by the international community in 1994 as a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and seafloor. The treaty establishes “exclusive economic zones” in which a coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources within 200 nautical miles of a defined baseline. The natural resources extend from fishing and wave energy in the ocean column to oil, natural gas, gas hydrates, and mineral resources below the seafloor. The United States Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, led by the Department of State, is responsible for delineating the U.S. ECS. Geoscientists will be analyzing the data to develop accurate estimates of the extent of the U.S. ECS. Canada and the U.S. have ongoing disputes about national boundaries beyond their coastlines in the Arctic Ocean.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on December 28 that it had awarded a multi-year $2 billion contract to Lockheed Martin for logistical support for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions Division will be responsible for designing and implementing a cost-effective infrastructure for managing USAP’s three year-round research stations, two research vessels, medical facilities, construction projects, and remote sites in and around Antarctica. The contract begins April 1, 2012 and will last 4.5 years but may be extended for as long as 8.5 more years.
The USAP has maintained a U.S. presence in Antarctica since 1956 and NSF is America’s lead agency for the Antarctic Treaty signed by the United States and 12 other original countries in 1959.The treaty sets Antarctica aside as a scientific research preserve, bans military activity, and establishes freedom of scientific investigation.
In a push to increase their communication efforts in support of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the State Department has launched a web site with information on the treaty and a list of supporters. The site is headlined with quotations by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in support of the treaty. The site provides links to factsheets and to the government’s Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Project.
The ECS Project will establish the full extent of the continental shelf of the United States. The project is co-chaired by the State Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other geoscientific expertise will be engaged to map the ECS. Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, a nation can secure its sovereign rights over natural resources within a 200- nautical mile exclusive economic zone from its coastal baseline and up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline or 100 nautical miles from a 2500 meter depth in cases where the continental shelf extends further than 200 nautical miles.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) becomes the latest of federal agencies to release its scientific integrity policy after a White House memorandum from March 2009 directed all agencies to write a policy “to ensure the integrity of the scientific process.” NOAA announced on December 7 that it has completed and made publicly available Administrative Order 202-735D on scientific integrity. The order states that “Transparency, traceability, and integrity are…core values of [NOAA] and the reason for issuing this Order.” According to the order, NOAA scientists are permitted to “speak freely to the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their work” and are encouraged to present their work at scientific meetings, serve on editorial boards, publish their work, and actively participate in scientific societies. Furthermore, NOAA scientists will be provided regular integrity and ethics training. As research scientists, NOAA employees are expected to be “honest in all aspects of scientific effort; accountable in the conduct of research and interpretation of research results; professional, courteous, and fair in working with others…; and good stewards of research on behalf of others.” The NOAA Research Council will be responsible for the oversight and communication of the policy.
On December 22, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy to update the 2010 report and present new criticality assessments, market and technology analyses, and review DOE activities in 2011 with regards to critical materials. DOE found that several clean energy technologies risk facing a materials supply disruption in the short term. The risks generally decline in the medium to long term time range. Supply challenges for dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium, and yttrium, all rare earth elements, are expected to affect clean energy deployment “in the years ahead,” according to DOE’s findings.
The National Climatic Data Center has counted at least a dozen weather and climate disasters that exceeded $1 billion in damages per event in the United States in 2011. The dozen include the Groundhog Day blizzard through the central and eastern U.S., six severe weather/tornado outbreaks, two major floods on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, wildfires in the Southwest and an ongoing drought in the South. The 12 events caused 646 fatalities and about $52 billion in estimated damages. Other disasters, such as Tropical Storm Lee and the Halloween snowstorm on the East Coast may also exceed $1 billion in total damages once all of the claims are completed leading to more than a dozen greater than $1 billion disasters in 2011. The previous record was eight high cost disasters in 2008 and 2011 is likely to be the third costliest weather damage year on record behind 2005, which was dominated by Hurricane Katrina, and 1988, which was dominated by extreme drought and a heat wave.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa ended on Sunday, December 11, two days later than planned, as delegates spent the weekend trying to reach an agreement on legally binding emissions reductions. The European Union, which ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has reduced emissions below 1990 levels, offered a new proposal to require all countries to reduce emissions. After intense negotiations, the delegates agreed to create a new climate deal that will have legal force by 2015 and to require developed and developing countries to reduce emissions.
The United States, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has exceeded its 1990 emissions levels in every year since 1990. The United States is the second largest emitter in the world and will have trouble meeting any targets. During the conference the U.S. was accused of delaying any agreements, but in the end it did agree to the new “legal force” terms. Besides the large emissions, the United States is concerned about including China in any reductions agreement.
China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, having overtaken the U.S. in 2010. China and other large developing nations, such as India, will be part of the agreement on legally binding emissions reductions. The agreement has not set any emissions targets so more significant negotiations are still to come before 2015 when the agreement is set to begin.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Global Open Access Portal (GOAP) held a forum in late November to bring together experts on open access to advise UNESCO on ways to promote and develop a platform for global open access around the world. Participants of the 2011 Open Access Forum discussed ways to promote open access to scientific information, data repositories, and academic journals, ways to implement successful open access policies around the world, and strategies to improve collaboration and access to scientific information among less developed countries. Many of the experts’ presentations are available on the forum web site.
The National Governors Association (NGA) released a report, entitled Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Agenda, to provide guidance for states to strengthen their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. Through the NGA Center for Best Practices, participating states can share best practices, strategies, and lessons learned. In addition to reiterating the goals of the NGA STEM Agenda - increasing the number of students and professionals in STEM and increasing STEM proficiency among all students, the report documents weak links in the education system and provides steps for a state to implement a robust STEM agenda. In 2007, NGA produced a similar document titled Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Agenda. This 2011 report updates the recommendations of the 2007 report in light of recent state progress to improve education standards and other efforts to advance STEM education.
NGA hosted a policy academy from 2009 to 2010 to provide six states a venue to discuss new models for teacher compensation. The policy academy provided teams from Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Tennessee with assistance and advice from NGA Center for Best Practices staff and with other experts. During the academy, state leadership teams found some common challenges, shared best practices, and committed to some common principles. The results of the academy are captured in a new brief from NGA titled New Models of Teacher Compensation: Lessons Learned from Six States. As states look to restructure teacher compensation systems, governors and state policymakers should strengthen student assessment systems, develop tools to measure teacher effectiveness beyond test scores, and engage key stakeholders to help develop new compensation frameworks.
The environmental and economic impacts of producing the 119 million pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County, Virginia are the focus of three reports released in December, 2011. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports in Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety, and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia that if the state were to lift the moratorium, it faces “steep hurdles” before mining and processing could be done appropriately enough to protect workers, the public, and the environment mostly because the state has no experience regulating the mining and processing of any radioactive element. The Fairfax County Water Authority’s board of directors released their own study on the potential impact of uranium mining and milling on watersheds. Their report, written by Tetra Tech, Inc. and Hazen and Sawyer P.C., concluded that “uranium mining and milling represent unique risks that require additional process controls to prevent impacts from toxic and radioactive byproducts” and called for a “conservative and precautious approach.” The Danville Regional Foundation of Danville, Virginia released an additional study conducted by RTI International which estimated the potential economic impacts to account for the immediate creation of “559 to 1,008 jobs” for construction and capital equipment purchase and for the long-term creation of “385 to 889 jobs.” RTI International detailed the potential environmental risks and recommended “appropriate investments should be made in design, pollution control technologies, and regulatory development and implementation.”
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is accepting applications for its Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP). The three month research opportunity would take place between June and August of 2012 and applicants would work within one of IIASA’s research programs which include the Energy Program, the Ecosystems Service and Management Program, and the Mitigation of Air Pollution and Greenhouses Gas Program. Information on how to apply and on the individual research opportunities within each program can be found on the YSSP web site. Applications are due January 16, 2012.
***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***
The full Federal Register can be found at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR.
PCAST– The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announces a partially open meeting on January 6, 2012 in Washington, DC. During the open meeting, PCAST is tentatively scheduled to hear from speakers who will provide an overview of a Secretary of Energy Advisory Board report on shale gas production, and an overview of the activities of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. [Monday, December 5, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 233)]
NWTRB – The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) will meet on January 9, 2012 in Arlington, VA to discuss integration efforts undertaken by Department of Energy Offices of Nuclear Energy and Environmental Management. [Monday, December 12, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 238)]
DOI – The Federal and State natural resource trustee agencies have prepared a Draft Early Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (DERP/EA) describing and proposing a suite of early restoration projects intended to commence the process of restoring natural resources and services injured or lost as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Public comments on the DERP/EA will be collected through February 14, 2012. [Thursday, December 15, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 241)]
DOE – The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee will be renewed for a two-year period. The Committee will provide advice to the Department of Energy on complex science and technical issues that arise in the planning, managing, and implementation of DOE's nuclear energy program. [Friday, December 16, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 242)]
DOI – The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Energy and Mineral Development Program is seeking Indian Tribes to apply for funding to assess, promote, and evaluate energy and mineral resources on Indian trust lands. Grant proposals are due on March 16, 2012. [Monday, December 19, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 243)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made available its responses to state and tribal designation recommendations to the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The EPA requests public comment on its responses by January 19, 2012. [Tuesday, December 20, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 244)]
USGS – The United States Geological Survey (USGS) announces a meeting of its National Geospatial Advisory Committee on January 12, 2012 via web and teleconference. The meeting is open to the public and registration closes on January 6, 2012. [Tuesday, December 20, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 244)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting scientific views on its Draft Recreational Water Quality Criteria. Comments are due by February 21, 2012. [Wednesday, December 21, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 245)]
DOE – The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Advisory Committee will hold an open teleconference on January 12, 2012. Information on how to participate can be found in the notice. [Friday, December 23, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 247)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a limited amount of amendments and revisions to its final rule on national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for area sources. Comments must be received by February 21, 2012. [Friday, December 23, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 247)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a limited amount of amendments and revisions to its final rule on national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for major sources – new and existing industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters at major sources of hazardous air pollutants. Comments must be received by February 21, 2012. [Friday, December 23, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 247)]
NRC – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards Subcommittee on Radiation Protection and Nuclear Materials will hold an open meeting on January 18, 2012 in Rockville, Maryland. [Friday, December 23, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 247)]
OSTP – The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for interested individuals and organizations to provide recommendations on approaches for ensuring and encouraging broad public access to unclassified digital data and peer-reviewed publications that result from federally funded scientific research. Comments are due January 12, 2012. [Friday, December 23, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 247)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting comments on its proposed amendments to the national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for the paper and pulp industry. Comments are due on or before February 27, 2012. [Tuesday, December 27, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 248)]
EPA –The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reopening its comment period for its final 2010 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan for sixty days. Comments are due on or before February 27, 2012. [Tuesday, December 27, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 248)]
EPA – The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board has announced the dates and times for its open teleconferences and meetings in 2012. [Tuesday, December 27, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 248)]
USACE – The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announces an open meeting of the Chief of Engineers Environmental Advisory Board on January 19, 2012 in Washington, DC. Information on how to register and the meeting’s agenda can be found in the notice. [Wednesday, December 28, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 249)]
DOE – The Department of Energy (DOE)’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will hold a webinar on small/low-impact hydropower on January 25, 2012. Registration is required. [Thursday, December 29, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 250)]
Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, Government Accountability Office, Open CRS, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, the White House, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Commerce, United Nations, Department of Education, Department of Defense, Department of State, Federal Emergency Management Agency, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Council on Governmental Relations, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Association of Universities, Lockheed Martin Corporation, National Governors Association, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Fairfax County Water Authority, Tetra Tech, Hazen and Sawyer, Danville Regional Foundation, RTI International
This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geosciences community that it serves. More information on these topics can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.
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Compiled January 3, 2012.