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AGI Fiscal Year 2006 Testimony to House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations

Written Testimony Submitted by
Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
March 18, 2005

To the Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to provide the American Geological Institute's perspective on fiscal year (FY) 2006 appropriations for geoscience programs within the subcommittee's jurisdiction. The president's budget requests vital and overdue funding for natural hazards and mapping which AGI greatly appreciates and fully supports. The administration seeks significant cuts in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mineral resources and water programs. If enacted, these reductions would hamper the Survey's ability to carry out its important missions to ensure adequate natural resources, monitor environmental conditions and provide assessments for economic development and national security. Specifically, we ask the subcommittee to restore funds to the USGS Mineral Resources Program and the Water Resources Research Institutes.

If the President's request were enacted, the USGS would receive $933.5 million, a decrease of $1.9 million from last year. The Mineral Resources Program would receive a 53% cut, leaving the program with only $25 million in FY 2006. For the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a new responsibility of this subcommittee, the proposed FY 2006 is $7.6 billion, a 5.6% decrease from last year with significant cuts for state water programs. AGI supports full funding for water programs in EPA and USGS, given the importance of clean and readily available water for our citizens, industries, local to federal government agencies and environment.

Geoscience activities are also found in a number of other agencies within the subcommittee's jurisdiction. We ask the subcommittee to support the well-informed, yet fiscally responsible increases in the administration's budget proposal for the Minerals Management Services (MMS) the National Park Service Geologic Resources Division, and the U.S. Forest Service Minerals and Geology Management Program. MMS manages natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf and disburses more than $5 billion per year in revenues from federal offshore and onshore mineral leases. Geoscience programs within the land management agencies provide a scientific basis for land-use decisions, a role that they share with the USGS.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 42 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists who work in industry, academia and government. The institute serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role that the geosciences play in society's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

U.S. Geological Survey

For the fourth year in a row, the USGS faces cuts in the administration's request. AGI thanks the subcommittee for its record of restoring critical funds and recognizing the Survey's essential value to the nation.

AGI is a charter member of the USGS Coalition, an alliance of nearly 70 organizations united by a commitment to the continued vitality of the unique combination of biological, geological, hydrological and mapping programs of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Coalition supports increased federal investment in USGS programs that underpin responsible natural resource stewardship, improve resilience to natural and human-induced hazards, and contribute to the long-term health, security and prosperity of the nation.

Virtually every American citizen and every federal, state, and local agency benefits either directly or indirectly from USGS products and services. As was made clear by the National Research Council report Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, the USGS's value to the nation goes well beyond the Department of the Interior's stewardship mission for public lands. USGS information and expertise address a wide range of important problems facing this nation: earthquakes and floods, global environmental change, water availability, waste disposal, and availability of energy and mineral resources. Some of the most important activities of the Survey serve the entire nation. At the same time, AGI recognizes that the Survey does have a responsibility to provide scientific support for its sister land management agencies at Interior, an important mission that needs to be well executed if land management decisions are to be made with the best available scientific information. It is imperative that both these missions be recognized and valued within the Department and the White House. AGI asks the subcommittee to continue its efforts to help the administration better understand the Survey's value to the nation as a whole

Mineral Resources Program

This highly regarded research program is the nation's premier credible source for regional, national and global mineral resource and mineral environmental assessments, statistics and research critical for sound economic, mineral-supply, land-use and environmental analysis, planning and decision-making. AGI urges the subcommittee to reject the administration's requested cuts to this program and to fund it at the FY 2005 appropriated level of $54 million. The 53% cut, leaving the program with only $25 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 would decimate the program. It would cost at least 240 full time positions and eliminate the collection of nation-wide basic geologic and mineral deposit data, the internationally coordinated global mineral resource assessment, and many mineral commodity reports. The essence of the program would be jeopardized at a time when mineral products account for $418 billion of the U.S. economy and are a growing and valuable commodity.

The Mineral Resources Program (MRP) has 6 divisions with offices across the U.S. working on a broad range of initiatives to secure the nation's economic base and environmental welfare. Each month, the Minerals Information Services of the MRP responds to 2,000 telephone inquiries and more than 90,000 email or facsimile inquiries from the federal government, state agencies, domestic and foreign agencies, foreign governments and the general public. Cutting-edge research by MRP scientists investigates the role of microbes in the geochemical cycles of arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc to understand the transport and accumulation of health-threatening toxins related to these elements and to distinguish their natural or anthropogenic sources. An MRP study analyzed the occurrence and distribution of asbestos-bearing vermiculite deposits in the U.S., in response to the health problems created by Libby Mine's asbestos-bearing vermiculite deposit in Montana. MRP scientists also investigated and prepared a report on the asbestos-bearing debris in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster. An MRP report on the diatomite mining industry concluded that the U.S. industry is mature and stable, accounting for at least 50% of all diatomite exported in 2001, but may be adversely affected by overproduction in other countries now. The Global Mineral Resource Assessment Project of the MRP provides unbiased and timely information about the current and future availability of mineral resources around the world, which is needed to understand and anticipate economic, health, environmental and political factors that will affect how these resources are used in this increasingly interconnected world.

The data and analyses of the MRP are used by the Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, the Federal Reserve, other federal, state and local government entities, foreign governments, private companies and the general public. Analyses based on the MRP data are essential for guiding economic and environmental policy and for providing options for land use decisions posed by industry, government and private land owners. We urge the subcommittee to restore the Mineral Resources Program to its FY2005 level of $54 million so that it may perform its core missions effectively and efficiently.

National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. AGI is encouraged by the administration's requested 1% increase for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program and values Congress' past support for much larger increases. This important partnership between the USGS, state geological surveys, and universities provides the nation with fundamental data for addressing natural hazard mitigation, environmental remediation, land-use planning, and resource development. The program was authorized (P.L. 106-148) to grow by about 10% to 20% per year from a starting level of $28 million in 1999 to $64 million in 2005. The program received $25.2 million in 2005 and AGI would encourage a 10% increase for 2006 because the program provides a timely basis for assessing water availability and quality, risks from hazards and other major land and resource-use issues that are of increasing prominence in many states.

Natural Hazards

A key role for the USGS is providing the research, monitoring, and assessment that are critically needed to better prepare for and respond to natural hazards. The tragic earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean remind us of the need for preparation, education, mitigation and rapid response to natural hazards. Last year 27 major disasters were declared because of earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, fires and floods. In addition, Mount St. Helens began erupting again in 2004 and continues to be active in 2005 with a steam and ash plume eruption reaching 36,000 feet in altitude on March 8. AGI strongly supports the administration's request for increased funding for Earthquake, Volcano and Landslide Hazards and appreciates Congress' past support for these programs. With great forethought, the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Authorization Act of 1999 called for a significant federal investment in expansion and modernization of existing seismic networks and for the development of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) -- a nationwide network of shaking measurement systems focused on urban areas. ANSS can provide real-time earthquake information to emergency responders as well as building and ground shaking data for engineers and scientists seeking to understand earthquake processes. ANSS was funded at about 10% of its authorized level during its first 3 years and received about $16 million. The law calls for 7,000 instruments to be deployed. Currently, 62 are active. We would like to commend the subcommittee and thank each of you for your leadership in securing an increase in last year's funding for ANSS. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) was reauthorized in October, 2004 and AGI supports the appropriation of full funding for this vital program. AGI strongly supports the proposed increase of $5.4 million for FY2006 for earthquake warning systems development related to the Tsunami Warning Network enhancements. We hope that all of these under funded systems will receive additional support to meet their timely goals of better protection and mitigation of earthquake hazards long before we need to react.

Water Programs

The president's request calls for the termination of the Water Resources Research Institutes. AGI strongly encourages the subcommittee to oppose these reductions and to fully support this program at its small, but effective FY2005 level of $6.4 million. AGI is pleased that the administration has requested full funding for the National Water Quality Assessment and National Streamflow Information programs, both of which make important contributions to the nation.

Homeland Security. Another troubling aspect of the president's request is the lack of funding for the USGS activities in support of homeland security and the war on terrorism overseas. All four disciplines within the Survey have made and continue to make significant contributions to these efforts, but the FY 2006 request does not provide any direct funding. Instead, those costs must be absorbed in addition to the proposed cuts. AGI encourages the subcommittee to recognize the Survey's important role in homeland security and ensure adequate support for its newfound responsibilities.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History plays a dual role in communicating the excitement of the geosciences and enhancing knowledge through research and preservation of geoscience collections. AGI asks the subcommittee to build up Smithsonian research with steady increases that are a tiny fraction of the overall budget, but would dramatically improve the facilities and their benefit to the country.

National Park Service

The national parks are very important to the geoscience community as unique national treasures that showcase the geologic splendor of our country and offer unparalleled opportunities for both geoscientific research and education of our fellow citizens. The National Park Services's Geologic Resources Division was established in 1995 to provide park managers with geologic expertise. Working in conjunction with USGS and other partners, the division helps ensure that geoscientists are becoming part of an integrated approach to science-based resource management in parks. AGI would like to see additional support for geological staff positions to adequately address the treasured geologic resources in the national parks.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony to the subcommittee. If you would like any additional information for the record, please contact me at 703-379-2480, ext. 228 voice, 703-379-7563 fax, rowan@agiweb.org, or 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302-1502.


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

Posted: May 12, 2005

 


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