American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization: 8-16-97

Latest Action: President Clinton signed the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997 into law (Public Law 105-36) on August 5th, less than two weeks after the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent (on July 23rd). The legislation had been stuck in the Senate for several months after passing the House by a voice vote under suspension of the rules in early March. The Senate accepted the House-passed version (H.R. 709). The new law authorizes appropriations of $26 million in FY1998, $28 million in FY1999, and $30 million in FY2000. It further stipulates that not less than 20 percent of the funds are to be allocated for State mapping activities and not less than 2 percent for educational mapping activities.

Action in the 105th Congress
On February 12th, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY) introduced S. 317 and H.R. 709, respectively, as identical companion bills to reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act. Both legislators chair the subcommittees of jurisdiction for this issue -- Craig continues as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management, and Cubin takes over as chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. That subcommittee was chaired previously by Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), who introduced the geologic mapping legislation in the 104th Congress. He is currently chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment within the Science Committee.

On February 27th, Cubin's subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 709, receiving testimony from USGS Chief Geologist Pat Leahy and Oklahoma State Geologist Charles Mankin, representing the Association of American State Geologists. Cubin entered written testimony from AGI Past President Bob Hatcher into the hearing record. In his testimony, Leahy referred to geologic mapping as a "cornerstone" of the USGS mission despite the fact that the President's budget request calls for a cut in the program due to its low priority. The subcommittee subsequently voted to send the bill to the full Resources Committee, which in turn is expected to send the bill to the House floor in the next week. The subcommittee accepted Democratic amendments to specifically include U.S. territories as eligible for federal matching grants to state mapping projects. A more extensive hearing summary will be forthcoming.

On March 5th, the full House Resources Committee all but unanimously passed H.R. 709, which passed the House on March 11th. Text of the House floor debate is available at this site.

Last year's legislation fell victim to a slew of "holds" in the Senate, a tactic by which a senator threatens to filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has reformed the "hold" procedures for the new Congress, including provisions to ensure that a hold no longer means a complete stop to work on legislation. In addition, holds are only good for thirty days after which time the holding senator must come to the floor and discuss the matter. It is hoped that these reforms will cut down on the blanket holds that were being applied last year to whole classes of bills, such as those coming out of a specific committee.

Background (10/19/96)

Efforts to reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992 came within hours, even minutes, of success on the final day of the 104th Congress but ultimately failed to pass the Senate, having passed the House in late July. Although the bill as introduced was free from controversy, time and again it fell victim to a series of "holds", or threats to filibuster, by senators seeking action on other unrelated pieces of legislation. In most cases, these holds applied to all bills coming out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and not specifically to the geologic mapping bill. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) had a hold on such bills for a full year in an effort to pass legislation that would protect a forest in northern New Jersey. After that, the two Democrtatic senators from Nevada, Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, put holds on all committee bills in an effort to defeat nuclear waste legislation. In the final weeks of the session, attempts to pass the geologic mapping bill by unanimous consent were unsuccessful because a number of members sought leverage over an omnibus parks bill that eventually passed on the final day of the session. In the final hours of October 4th after the parks bill was out of the way, a hassle over judicial appointments served to delay consideration of unanimous consent requests until the final minutes when Senator Lott told staff from each of the committees that only their top four bills would go through. Although the geologic mapping bill was a priority for the Energy Committee leadership, it did not make the top four and did not pass.

Although reauthorization failed to pass this time around, the appropriations for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping program in the U.S. Geological Survey were made using existing authority under the USGS Organic Act of 1879.

In August, prospects were looking up for reauthorization of the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992. The House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 3198, on July 30 as one of several non-controversial pieces of legislation. The Senate was expected to pass H.R. 3198 in identical form by unanimous consent soon after the August recess. The bill would then be cleared for the President. The bill's broad support was endangered earlier in the process when House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) considered amending it to include a controversial provision to privatize mapping functions within the Department of the Interior. The amendment was not made in part because of concerns that it could be challenged as non-germane. Instead, the Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources promised to hold a hearing to address that issue (such a hearing is now planned for early next year pending the outcome of the elections).

There have been two "Political Scene" columns in Geotimes on this subject. The December 1995 column, Reauthorizing the Geologic Mapping Act, was written when expectations were running high that reauthorization legislation would be introduced in October. The budget crisis caused many delays, and it was not until March 29th that California Republican Ken Calvert, who chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over this issue, introduced H.R. 3198.

On April 23rd, Calvert's Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee of the House Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 3198. AGI President Bob Hatcher testified in support of H.R. 3198 and particularly the component that funds geologic mapping at universities in order to train the next generation of mappers. Others testifying included USGS Chief Geologist Pat Leahy; Idaho State Geologist Earl Bennett on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists; Martha Tyler, an urban planner in the San Francisco Bay Area; and Sam Stribling, a biologist working for an environmental firm in Maryland. The latter two testified as end-users of geologic maps. The tone of the hearing was very positive with Calvert noting that this was the first time that the Administration had supported a bill he had introduced. Ranking minority member Neal Abercrombie of Hawaii asked a number of questions and was particularly interested in the educational component. This hearing and the first meeting of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program Advisory Board are discussed in the June "Political Scene" column, Progress on the Geologic Mapping Act.

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) delayed introduction of companion legislation in the Senate due to concern that the mapping privatization amendment would be offered by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK). After receiving assurances that the bill would be kept clean, Craig introduced S. 1731 on May 7th. As introduced, H.R. 3198 and S. 1731 are identical. Rather than hold its own hearings, the Senate appears to be content to agree to the House-passed bill.

For more on the history of the mapping privatization proposal, see the January "Political Scene" column, USGS Abolition Threat Gets Second Wind.

Passage of the reauthorization bill is a priority of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) and AGI.

Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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

Last updated August 16, 1997

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