Government Affairs Program

AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee Meeting
Report

Meeting and Joint Session with GSA Geology and Public Policy Committee
March 27, 2006
Arlington, VA
12:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Attendees (asterisks are for joint session attendees only):
Jamie Robertson (Chair), State Geologist of Wisconsin
Skip Hobbs, American Association of Petroleum Geologists
*Don Juckett, American Association of Petroleum Geologists
John Keith, Association of Earth Science Editors
Skip Watts, Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists
*Pete Folger, American Geophysical Union
Marianne Guffanti, American Geophysical Union
*Cathy O'Riordan, American Geophysical Union
Laurie Scheuing, Association for Women Geoscientists
Blair Jones, Clay Minerals Society
W. Jerrold Samford, GeoInstitute of the American Society of Civil Engineers
Melanie Barnes, Geological Society of America
Tamara L. Dickinson, Geological Society of America
David Diodato, Geological Society of America
*Nicole Gasparini, Geological Society of America
*Sue Halsey, Geological Society of America
Jack Hess, Geological Society of America
John Kiefer, Geological Society of America
*George Linkletter, Geological Society of America
*Deborah Nelson, Geological Society of America
*Sarah Noble, Geological Society of America
*Mark Peters, Geological Society of America
*Walter S. Snyder, Geological Society of America
*Stephen G. Wells, Geological Society of America
Lenny Konikow, International Association of Hydrogeologists, U.S. National Chapter
Hazel Medville, National Speleological Society
Wayne Pennington, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
Hal Gluskoter, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc.
Jingle Ruppert, The Society for Organic Petrology
Karl Glasener, Soil Science Society of America
John L. Havlin, Soil Science Society of America
*Dave Applegate, Geological Society of America
Tim West, U.S. Geological Survey

Linda Rowan, AGI GAP Director
Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern


Joint Meeting with Government Affairs Advisory Committee (GAPAC) and Geological Society of America Geology and Public Policy Committee (GSA)


I. Introductions
Jamie Robertson called the joint meeting to order at 11:09 am. He asked GAPAC and GSA committee members to introduce themselves and to describe the public policy activities of their societies. Among the many active societies were the GeoInstitute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which conducts lobbying visits on Capitol Hill; the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH), which focuses efforts on international policy; the National Speleological Society (NSS), which sends letters to Congress each year; and the American Geophysical Union (AGU), which arranges congressional visits, provides legislative alerts to members, and sends letters to Congress. Wayne Pennington of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) noted that SEG has an explicit policy against lobbying. There was also discussion about the public policy outreach efforts of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS holds briefings, provides geologic fact sheets and other useful pamphlets prepared for the public and visits congressional offices when information is requested.

Suggestions that were made to get more geoscientists involved in public policy include:


GAPAC Meeting

I. Introductions and Preliminary Business
Jamie Robertson called the GAPAC meeting to order at 1:30 pm.

A. Approval of agenda
Robertson asked that the committee approve the agenda, and the motion was agreed to.

B. Review of action items and approval of minutes from October meeting
Linda Rowan reviewed the action items from the October 1, 2005 meeting.

1. Rowan said she is working with the Hazards Caucus on Hurricane Katrina issues.

2. Chris Keane at AGI is currently working on data preservation issues.

3. GAP staff are working on an action alert regarding restoring funding to the USGS mineral resources program. GAP will also conduct visits to inform Congress about the issue.

4. Rowan told the committee that Senators Cornyn and Lieberman are planning to introduce legislation that would require all agencies to have open access policies like the NIH policy. GAP will continue to follow open access legislation.

5. Rowan said there have not yet been any details on the new USGS director

6. GAP has continued to follow Senator Domenici's cave preservation bill. It passed in the Senate, but the House has not yet taken any action on the bill.

7. The Congressional Hazards Caucus Alliance has not yet considered holding a briefing on rock falls. Last year the alliance held briefings on hurricanes, earthquakes, and coastal flooding. In February, the alliance held a briefing on hazard mitigation reports. A tornado briefing will be held in April.

8. Robertson asked whether any additional societies that had not previously done so had begun forwarding the GAP Monthly Review to their members. No society responded that they had started to.

9. Rowan announced that a public policy seminar will be held at the Seismological Society of America (SSA) meeting in San Francisco in April. The seminar will be a four-hour tutorial session to teach scientists how to work with Congress. There will also be a public policy seminar at the annual GSA meeting this year.

10. Rowan noted that GAP has not yet distributed a survey like the AGI general survey.

Jerry Samford moved to approved the minutes from the last GAPAC meeting. Skip Hobbs seconded the motion and the minutes were approved by the committee.

II. Member Society Priorities
Each society had a chance to report their priority policy areas.

Association of Engineering Geologists (AEG) - Skip Watts discussed a tendency for the federal government to discount proven science. In particular, he noted the examples of the New Orleans levees and rock fall issues in Yosemite National Park. He explained that mass wasting in Yosemite is responsible for huge amounts of damage to highways, railroads, canals, building construction sites, and other property. He would like the Hazards Caucus to learn more about rock falls. He added that evidence of the dangers of rock falls in Yosemite was presented at a recent AEG meeting, and that papers on this topic will be released later this year.

Watts added that another of AEG's priorities is enhancing geoscience education at all levels, including elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. He emphasized that educating the public is particularly important.

Skip Hobbs asked whether AEG is prepared to take a political stand on the dikes in New Orleans in the form of a report that is critical of the federal government.

Watts said he would need to ask AEG's membership whether they were willing to take a position. If so, he said such a report would address the levees from an engineering and geological standpoint.

Rowan noted that ASCE has groups that conduct an independent study whenever a natural disaster like Katrina occurs.

Geological Society of America (GSA) - Jaime Robertson told the committee that the primary policy priority for GSA is increasing membership involvement in public policy.

Jack Hess added that GSA had conducted a survey of members with questions related to whether GSA should be more involved in public policy issues. The response from membership was more positive than GSA had expected, and the survey showed that most members felt GSA should be more active. 40% of respondents said they would be willing to have $10 increase in annual dues to fund government affairs activities at GSA. Hess said he is looking at implementing a phased approach for increasing involvement, and hopes to hire a person to do government affairs work for GSA.

Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) - Laurie Scheuing said AWG had funded a proposal to increase AWG members' involvement in the Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD). This year, AWG paid travel costs for two members from Boston, one from Philadelphia, and one from Denver. AWG is also updating its policy statement regarding the teaching of evolution.

American Geophysical Union (AGU) - Marianne Guffanti detailed the activities of the AGU Committee on Public Affairs, which include picking the Congressional science fellow, participating in CVD, arranging additional visits for members wishing to visit Capitol Hill, and revising public policy positions. She added that AGU has recently renewed its natural hazards statements. They decided not to include global warming but rather to focus on sudden onset hazards.

The Society for Organic Petrology (TSOP) - Jingle Ruppert explained that TSOP is a small, international society with most members located outside of the U.S. The main policy issues for TSOP are oil, gas, and coal issues. She noted that the unique make-up of TSOP makes achieving consensus difficult, and therefore public policy is not a critical issue for the society. For example, evolution is not an issue in the international scientific community, although TSOP does link to AGI's evolution page. Similarly, TSOP has members on both sides of the global warming debate. Ruppert said that TSOP's most critical issue is that no US universities are teaching organic petrology anymore. TSOP members are trying to figure out how to maintain organic petrology expertise since it is no longer being taught.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) - Hobbs said the most recent policy activity at AAPG had been to open a full-time Geoscience and Energy Office, run by Don Juckett, to represent AAPG in Washington DC. AAPG is also in the process of updating its government affairs position statements.

Wayne Pennington asked how the society can become more active in U.S. policy when AAPG's membership is growing due to international members. Wayne's society, SEG, often worries about putting too many resources into U.S. policy issues when their membership is very international.

Hobbs said that more than half of AAPG's new members are international and that the society has become a global organization rather than just a Gulf Coast organization. He said that at a recent AAPG leadership meeting in Galveston, the society's leadership discussed how to move forward into international issues. He also said that it is very important for AAPG's international members to be represented in Washington, and that the new Geoscience and Energy Office is helping in that process. Some U.S. policy decisions will affect the international petroleum community.

Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) - John Havlin said that SSSA created a new strategic plan in 2004, and that the most important aspect of that is showing the public the value of soil sciences. The new soils exhibit at the Smithsonian has been in the works since 1996 and should open in 2008. The opening of the exhibit is scheduled to coincide with the International Year of Planet Earth. $2.5 million has been raised to fund the two-year exhibit as well as a permanent exhibit displaying soil from each state. Funds are being sought for a traveling exhibit, a materials website, and DVD materials for K-12 classrooms.

Karl Glasener said SSSA has been working since October to establish a House Soils Caucus. There are currently forty offices involved and a Dear Colleague letter is being circulated to invite additional members to join. The caucus should be established in about a month. SSSA is also arranging its own congressional visits day this year, with fifty scientists coming to Capitol Hill to focus on biological and agricultural scientific issues.

Clay Minerals Society (CMS) - Blair Jones said the highest priority public policy issue for CMS is open access legislation.

International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) - Leonard Konikow noted that a crucial issue for IAH is ensuring groundwater is not ignored in discussions about water problems.

National Speleological Society (NSS) - Hazel Medville reported that NSS is following a land sale bill in the House that would result in the sale of one-third of National Forest and Interior lands. Medville also drew attention to open channel flow in groundwater.

Hess noted that IAH has a karst commission and is paying attention to channel flow issues as well.

Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) - Pennington reiterated that SEG has an explicit policy of not lobbying on issues. Nonetheless, he said SEG members did lobby regarding the open access issue.

Watts asked whether SEG had followed issues related to the frequencies used for ground-penetrating radar. Some frequencies that geophysicists use were being outlawed by Congress.

Pennington said that SEG had been successful in informing Congress that instruments used by geophysicists only generate those frequencies over very small areas that don't interfere with other uses. .

Watts maintained that the issue could resurface.

III. Teaching of Evolution

A. Summary of AAAS evolution meeting
Rowan presented a summary of a number of the sessions she attended at the AAAS meeting on evolution. The Alliance for Science presented a series of talks on the teaching of evolution. The talks provided a summary of how creationists got involved in the teaching of evolution and how the idea of teaching Intelligent Design (ID) developed.

One session was held with teachers. Rowan reported that teachers would like help with how to respond to questions about evolution. They need good examples that support evolution, answers to questions about faith, and methods of using inquiry-based techniques rather than education by example and memorization to teach evolution. The session also involved a philosophical discussion of whether teachers should identify religious preferences when talking about the issue. Some teachers said they preferred to identify their personal religion, but most other teachers prefer not to. Rowan said that when talking about teaching evolution, schools and organizations will often pick a spokesperson with a religious background to show that faith and science are compatible.

There was also a session on the constitutional issues of teaching evolution and most of the speakers were attorneys. The attorneys discussed three tests that US Supreme Court currently uses to decide on the separation of church and state issue. One of the tests was developed by Sandra Day O'Connor and may not be used now that she has left the Supreme Court. Rowan also reported that the Supreme Court does not have a definition of either science or religion.

An additional session was "Evolution on the Frontline," sponsored by GSA. 243 local teachers from the St. Louis area were present, as well as nine teachers from Dover, PA, Cobb County, Georgia, and Kansas. The top four priorities of the teachers were:
- How to respond to the argument that they shouldn't teach controversial subject matter;
- How to tell students they should approach science with an open mind while maintaining that the teachers are unequivocal about teaching evolution;
- How to reduce the time and pressure spent dealing with objections from a few students and parents; and
- Basic facts about evolution.

Rowan noted that eight of AGI's member societies have position statements on evolution: AGI, AGU, AWG, GSA, the Paleontological Society, SSSA, TSOP, and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Ruppert noted that creationists have a marketing technique, while proponents of evolution do not. The American Institute of Physics is leading a joint societies effort to employ professionals to develop a marketing strategy for evolution and to create three messages scientists can repeat to the public to increase awareness and understanding about evolution.

Guffanti added that the public is confused by the word "theory."

Robertson pointed out that being careful about what you say is an integral part of being a scientist, and that he finds needing a marketing strategy "offensive."

Samford raised the important point that the difficulty in teaching evolution is really teaching science. To teach evolution we need to start at a more basic level and teach people about the scientific method and how to think scientifically.

Guffanti noted that this is becoming increasingly difficult. A third of school districts in the U.S. are cutting back on everything but reading and math to comply with No Child Left Behind.

Rowan shifted the focus of the discussion to what AGI should do about the issue. She explained that when she sent out the questionnaire, she received very different responses from the different societies. Some didn't want anything to do with the evolution issue and were concerned that AGI is taking action on it. Others said they didn't have time to deal with the issue or couldn't do so because of their limited resources. Still others said they would like to take more action but don't know what to do. Some societies are currently actively working on the issues. Rowan asked the committee whether societies should be working on the issue individually, or whether AGI should be responsible for any action. She also asked whether action should focus at the local level or the national level.

Rowan explained that some societies will have a few members who respond very passionately that evolution should not be taught, while those who believe evolution should be taught will respond less passionately.

Hobbs noted that there are some AAPG members who do not support the teaching of evolution, although most members, and everyone at the executive level, are opposed to teaching ID. AAPG must be sensitive to its members, and the society is probably not ready to take a position on the issue.

Guffanti asked whether AAPG would be prepared to take a position on the age of the Earth.

Hobbs said that would necessitate speaking with members and arriving at a consensus.

Robertson pointed out that the key issue is making sure people understand what science is. Many people don't understand why ID isn't science and why it shouldn't be taught in science classes.

Hobbs advised AGI to determine definitions of science and the scientific method to clarify the debate. He noted that half the population believes in the biblical account of creation, and that you can't tell them they're "stupid and wrong." Instead, it is crucial to show them ID is faith, not science.

Guffanti noted that this approach is inline with the recent court rulings. The Dover decision was not whether ID is right, but rather whether it should be taught in a science class.

Robertson added that the keynoted speaker at the Fall GSA meeting in Philadelphia, is Judge John Jones, the judge who presided over the Dover evolution case.

Rowan noted that the GAP evolution website has a link to Judge Jones' decision as well as a useful article about the constitutional issues and definitions of science, theory and scientific method from the American Constitution Society.

*** Meeting recessed at 2:45 for a 15 minute break ***

IV. Open Access

Rowan explained that no open access legislation has been introduced yet, but that it is currently being drafted. The potential legislation would most likely require any federal agency with more than $100 million in federal funding to have NIH-like open access system. Authors would have to submit all data to a database six months after publication of their results.

Robertson pointed out that this would be a significant issue for societies with publications that generate considerable revenue for the society.

Ruppert noted that the impetus behind open access legislation is that taxpayers are starting to get angry about the inability to access data that they pay for.

Hess said that GSA has taken a stand regarding open access of data. Open access of journals would close down societies.

Barnes noted that there is a difference between open access of data and open access of data interpretation (journal articles).

Hess also raised the issues of costs, noting that open access of journals would force authors to pay more to publish.

V. Natural Resources: Connecting Science with Policy

Rowan reminded the committee that at the last meeting they had discussed natural hazards and how to communicate the science behind hazards to the public. At that meeting, they had decided to do same thing for natural resources. The key question regarding energy resources is how to communicate the complexities of energy exploration, extraction, and development to the public. For water resources, the crucial issues are explaining groundwater, surface water, and watersheds. Energy and water issues tend to be issues people do not understand but want to use, or issues that they think are simple despite the scientific complexity. Rowan asked for suggestions on anything AGI or individual societies can do to improve communication about the science behind the issues.

Robertson noted the importance of approach when communicating with the public. It is more useful to explain to people where energy comes from and what the sources are, rather than telling them to "buy BP stock" or "buy a hybrid." People are disconnected from energy and don't really understand where it comes from.

Hobbs added that the public doesn't appreciate the timeframe involved in dealing with energy issues. People think that drilling in the Arctic is unnecessary now, but that the U.S. can do so if an oil embargo develops. They don't understand that it would take 10 years to get usable energy from Arctic drilling. It is crucial to inform the public that these things don't happen overnight.

Konikow noted that USGS fact sheets on water resources and hydrogeology have been very useful. In particular, one report describing ground water and surface water as a single resource has become an excellent resource for informing congressional staffers.

Guffanti asked whether the USGS report is easy to find using a Google search of the words "surface water."

Konikow responded that it should be, since it has its own website.

Guffanti maintained that it is crucial that people can find these resources. In particular, she said these sorts of reports should be given to science writers at major newspapers.

Konikow added that the USGS also has a report on "scientifically defensible" information for decision makers. Reports like this could be created and distributed by anyone with an unbiased stance, such as AGI.

Rowan asked about the possibility of workshops for water managers where Earth scientists are present.

Konikow responded that these occur often and are sponsored by a variety of societies but not necessarily USGS.

Robertson noted that the water division at USGS has a quick turnaround for publications.

Gluskoter pointed out that writing these sorts of reports is not seen as a high-priority by many scientists because it does not hold as much esteem as authoring peer-reviewed articles.

Rowan added that the same problem plagues universities, where public outreach and education are seen as low priorities.

John Keith noted that USGS also has a petroleum report.

Hobbs noted a good venue for dispersing publications on natural resources is the National Conference of State Legislators. AAPG and AIPG both participate.

Rowan added that AGI participated in the conference last year and that GSA will also be participating this year.

Robertson said the Association of American State Geologists has been participating for the past ten years, and that the greatest sellers at their booth have been the postcards and state maps. He also pointed out that the legislators with the most initiative make a point of coming specifically to learn about the issues, and that it is an excellent opportunity to convey the message. He added that we have to be careful not to drive them off with too much information.

Hobbs said GAPAC should encourage member societies to participate in the conference, and that societies should provide no more than one publication on each natural resource issue (e.g. water, energy, or evolution).

Jones asked whether the same sort of conference exists for Congressional staffers.

Rowan replied that when AGI arranges Congressional visits, GAP brings staffers a pamphlet on targeted issues. Also, at the Hazards Caucus briefings organizations put information out near the entrance, and staffers generally take it all. She added that staffers were given copies of the hazard mitigation reports.

Jones noted that it is crucial to forge links with staff and to have staff contacts in Congressional offices.

Guffanti said the USGS is starting to do Congressional briefings as part of an effort to inform Congress. USGS works through staffers and has a Congressional sponsor for each event.

Rowan added that AGI coordinates with USGS for these briefings and that other societies bring material to the briefings. AGI also coordinates with the Senate Disaster Prediction and Prevention Subcommittee

Hess added that GSA has cosponsored briefings.

Tammy Dickinson noted that the American Meteorological Society holds successful monthly briefings. The most recent one concerned the nitrogen cycle and had nearly 60 people in attendance.

West suggested inviting scientists to talk to staffers about how they use data. He also noted that attendance at USGS briefings is usually about 50% staffers and that having members of the press present has been an additional benefit. The briefings have also proved useful in developing contacts, including analysts from Library of Congress.

Konikow pointed out that many non-governmental groups have influence on formulating policy, especially think tanks and NGOs, but that these groups may lack scientific expertise. He suggested creating an internship program that could provide earth scientists to these organizations. The most important action would be to make these groups recognize that it would be worth their money to have an earth science intern. AGI could then find earth science students and promote the program.

Rowan asked whether the program would be for earth scientists with bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees, and how long the program would last.

Konikow replied that any expertise would be valuable but that PhDs would be able to provide the most help. A one-year internship would be ideal, but even a three-month program could be beneficial.

Hobbs asked whether AGI or the benefiting organizations would pay the stipends.

Konikow said the organizations would pay the stipend, but AGI would convince them of the value of the program and find the scientists for them.

Dickinson pointed out that before a program is created, we should ask the NGOs whether they have enough scientific expertise.

Ruppert added that some organizations, like Rand, are very good at employing experts.

Robertson noted that a useful first step might be to hold a briefing on a particular topic to see if they find the scientific expertise useful.

Guffanti elaborated that some "market research" should be done to see whether organizations are in need of scientists, and that AGI should develop a list of target organizations.

Barnes pointed out that universities are starting to recognize that there are academics who are interested in working on Capitol Hill or in NGOs as a sabbatical, and that an internship program for academics could receive financial support from universities.

Rowan noted that several societies have distinguished lecturers that tour the country. They could offer to give lectures at think tanks as well to see if the organizations are interested in scientific input through lectures or internships.

Robertson emphasized that the main point should be looking for underserved areas that could use a geologist. This could include think tanks but could also cover other areas. We should not be too confined in our outlook for how we can influence policy.

Rowan noted that an internship program could have significant problems, including cost, how to set it up, and how to get it certified.

Ruppert returned the discussion to the idea of increasing coverage by distinguished lecturers. She noticed that the Carnegie Institute of Washington has lectures that are consistently listed in the Washington Post. She recommended calling local newspapers when a scientist is going to give a talk.

Guffanti suggested that AGI start its own distinguished lecturer series.

Dickinson suggested that AGI should coordinate distinguished lecturer series and other scientific events and make them more well known to the public and to influential think tanks and NGOs. She also cited a need for better publicity for what societies are already doing on their own.

Barnes emphasized the need to establish one-on-one contact with large newspapers around the country in order to better publicize public events.

Rowan discussed the AGI TV series that is currently being produced. It will be a four-part series on earth system issues. It is being produced by Evergreen and Discovery, and was funded primarily by a $2.5 million donation from Exxon-Mobil. The overall cost is $5 million. The series will be shown worldwide, including prime-time coverage on the Discovery Science Channel.

Hobbs added that the program will be translated into other languages and should be again exceptional opportunity for public outreach about earth science. It will hopefully be premiered at the Smithsonian in 2007.

VI. Other business

Rowan said that the next meeting will be held at the GSA fall meeting in Philadelphia. After some discussion, the meeting was tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Monday, October 23, 2006. A back-up meeting time of Sunday afternoon was also discussed.

The meeting adjourned at 3:56 pm.


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

Posted May 11, 2006