AGI Testimony on Fiscal Year 2001 Appropriations for the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Energy

Written Testimony Submitted by
Dr. David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute
in support of Fiscal Year 2001 Appropriations for the
U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D Program

U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations
April 6, 2000

To the Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

The American Geological Institute (AGI) strongly supports the valuable research, monitoring, and assessment work done by the agencies under this subcommittee's jurisdiction, particularly the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program. These agencies provide geoscience information and expertise on a wide range of important problems facing this nation: from earthquakes, floods, droughts, and volcanic eruptions to global environmental changes, water pollution, contamination from waste disposal, and reliance on unstable sources of foreign oil and minerals. AGI urges the subcommittee to fully fund the President's requested fiscal year (FY) 2001 budget for geoscience programs and to expand support in several key areas.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 35 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. 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 mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Although this testimony focuses on the USGS and Department of Energy, AGI also urges the subcommittee to fund geoscience-related activities at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Smithsonian Institution. MMS does important work in energy resource assessment and collection of geoscience data. Geoscience programs within the land management agencies provide a scientific basis for land-use decisions, a role that they share with the USGS. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History plays a dual role in communicating the excitement of the geosciences and preserving geoscience data, particularly fossil collections.

We thank the subcommittee for recognizing the value of federal investments in the geosciences, which continue to pay back large dividends. The rationale for continuing this investment has never been stronger. The national need for a federal role in the geosciences is based on a number of factors, most notably:

U.S. Geological Survey

The central mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide reliable, objective earth science data and analysis of hazards, resources, and the environment from a national perspective. Virtually every American citizen and every federal, state, and local agency benefits either directly or indirectly from USGS products and services. The USGS is widely recognized for providing unbiased data used by others to better manage the nation's resources. The USGS plays a key role in focusing many nationally important investigations that address natural systems and hazards. Since the inclusion of the Biological Resources Division, the USGS has been in a position to demonstrate the integrating role of the earth sciences and the importance of interaction among disciplines to solve complex problems.

AGI encourages the subcommittee to support the President's overall request of $895.4 million for the USGS, a 10 percent increase over FY 2000. In its budget presentation, the USGS has emphasized that the bulk of the proposed increase is directed toward core Survey activities, a focus that this subcommittee has long emphasized. Even with the increases proposed in the President's fiscal year 2001 budget request, science at the Department of the Interior is still far below what it was six years ago. According to calculations by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Interior's budgets for science declined by over 20% in constant dollars between FY 1994 and FY 1999, far more than in any other federal department or agency. Scientific activities within Interior should be strongly supported as a wise investment in improving the nation's ability to make informed decisions about its land and resources.

We wish to be particularly supportive of the requested $7.5 million increase for geologic mapping. 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, or resource development. The Administration's request takes a significant step toward reaching the funding levels set by the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1999.

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 devastating flooding in North Carolina last year and the current volcanic eruption of Mount Usu in Japan with its accompanying mudslides are just two reminders of the impact these events have on people, their communities, and the environment. The success of federal mitigation efforts depends on the improved understanding that comes from research and monitoring -- an investment that produces societal benefits and returns in housing, transportation, commerce, agriculture, communications, and human health and safety. AGI strongly supports the requested $7.1 million increase for real-time earthquake, volcano, and flood warning systems. The subcommittee is to be commended for commissioning studies of the nation's stream-gaging and seismic networks -- the resulting reports clearly demonstrate the pressing need for modernization and expansion in both cases. More investment is needed, and we hope that the subcommittee will go beyond the President's request for these programs.

Although AGI is supportive of the overall Survey budget, we also ask the subcommittee to carefully scrutinize the distribution of funding, particularly the cuts to hydrologic research and mineral resource assessments.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development

Continued research on fossil energy is critical to America's future. The societal benefits of fossil energy R&D extend to such areas as economic and national security, job creation, capital investment, and reduction of the trade deficit. The nation will remain dependent on petroleum as its principal transportation fuel for the foreseeable future, and it is critical that domestic production not be allowed to prematurely decline at a time when tremendous advances are being made in improving the technology with which these resources are extracted. The recent spike in oil prices is a reminder of the need to retain a vibrant domestic industry, and technological advances are the key to maintaining our resource base.

The federal investment in energy R&D is particularly important when it comes to longer-range research with broad benefits. In today's competitive markets, the private sector focuses dwindling research dollars on shorter-term results in highly applied areas such as technical services. In this context, DOE's support of fossil energy research is very significant both in magnitude and impact compared to that done in the private sector. Without it, we risk losing our technological edge with this global commodity.

For that reason, AGI is concerned by the shift in the President's budget request away from longer term, upstream research toward more applied, downstream technology development. This shift is reflected in the significant increase proposed for the natural gas program at the expense of petroleum R&D, which would decline 8.2 percent to $52.6 million. The petroleum program largely funds projects aimed at improving the efficiency of both petroleum and natural gas exploration and production. The federal money spent on these programs goes to support laboratories and improve information dissemination. This money does not go into corporate coffers, but it helps American businesses stay in business by giving them a technological edge over their foreign competitors. AGI urges the subcommittee to restore funding for petroleum R&D.

Technology transfer is one important role for DOE. The historic symbiotic relationship between major oil companies and independent producers has largely disappeared, and independent producers do not have access to existing and emerging advanced exploration, reservoir management, and production technologies. AGI supports DOE's efforts to accelerate the dissemination of these technologies through the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (PTTC) and other mechanisms so that more domestic petroleum can be produced, and fewer producing fields are abandoned.

AGI's own National Geoscience Data Repository System project is an excellent example of a partnership between DOE, state government, and the private sector. Domestic geological and geophysical data are critical to the energy security and economic prosperity of the United States. A consequence of the ongoing downsizing and mega-mergers in the U.S. oil and gas industry is that billions of dollars worth of domestic geological and geophysical data are in jeopardy of being irrevocably lost or destroyed. According to many independent oil producers, a national geoscience data repository system would enable them to expand their search for and development of domestic oil and gas resources. AGI is working with DOE and the private sector to leverage federal dollars with industry contributions in order to establish a national geoscience data repository system for the use of industry, government, and the scientific research community.

I appreciate the opportunity to present this testimony to the subcommittee. I would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record.


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Posted by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Posted April 21, 2000


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