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Congress: Structure, Status and Key Committees (1/5/11)

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Article I of the U.S. Constitution defines the legislative branch: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The detailed structure of Congress was left to each chamber to develop and revise as needed over time. Here the most relevant committees, subcommittees, rules and changes within Congress for the geoscience community are described and updated. For information about specific legislation discussed in Congress, visit our current issues page.

Recent Action

Brief Overview of the New 112th Congress
The 112th Congress will begin on January 5, 2011 and there are significant changes based on the elections in November. In the House, Republicans won 63 seats that were held by Democrats in the 111th Congress, gaining a majority of 242 of the 435 total seats. There will be 96 new members in the House (9 are Democrats) and 37 new members in the Senate (13 are Democrats). The Government Printing Office has created a pictorial directory of the new members of the House. On the Senate side, Republicans gained 6 seats, leaving the Democrats in control, with a 53-seat majority (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats), but the majority will be even smaller than the 60 votes needed to fulfill cloture.

On December 7, the incoming House Republican leaders announced their committee chairmanships. The House Appropriations Committee will be led by new Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) while Norm Dicks (D-WA) will likely serve as the ranking member. Key subcommittee positions for appropriations have not yet been announced.

The renamed House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will be chaired by Ralph Hall (R-TX). Space was added to the committee name to reflect the chair’s commitment to NASA and the aerospace industry.  Doc Hastings (R-WA) will take the gavel for the Natural Resources Committee, and the highly-contested chairmanship for the Energy and Commerce committee will go to Fred Upton (R-MI). Joe Barton (R-TX) campaigned aggressively to remain the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee, but Barton needed a waiver to serve a fourth term in the spot, and the Steering Committee declined to make an exception. The Committee on Education and Labor will be renamed Education and Workforce and the new chair will be John Kline (R-MN). Labor Unions are concern the name change is a reflection of the conflict between the Republican Party and Labor Unions, which have tended to support the Democratic Party.

Republican chairmen are expected to tighten their oversight of agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of the Interior (DOI) and to demand justification for all spending and budgets. Hastings has already asked Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to appear before the Natural Resources Committee and explain how DOI plans to address hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction.

On December 22, the incoming House Republican leadership announced new rules to be voted on when the 112th Congress convenes. Leadership will retain the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, will institute a “72-hour” rule that mandates the online posting of bills at least three calendar days before a vote, and will institute a “cut as you go” rule that requires offsets for any new spending. In addition, committees must post their rules online, provide three-day notice of markups, post votes within 48 hours, make the text of amendments available and post a “truth in testimony” statement online detailing any conflicts of interest of a hearing witness. The new leadership hopes to repeal the “Gephardt Rule” that automatically increased the debt limit when a budget resolution was adopted in the past.

The House congressional calendar for the first session has been posted and is available as a PDF.

Leadership on key Senate committees is expected to be similar to that in the 111th Congress. On the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) will likely retain their positions as chair and ranking member, respectively; John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), are slotted to keep their leadership on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

On the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will likely retain their positions as chair and ranking member, respectively. Senator Murkowski was certified by the state of Alaska as the winner of the November election as a write-in candidate after a long and drawn out challenge. Murkowski will continue as a member of the Republican party and will likely continue to serve on the Appropriations Committee.

2010 Census of U.S. Population
The U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary data from the 2010 Census of the U.S. population in late December. As of April 1, 2010 the U.S. population stood at 308,745,538, for a growth rate of 9.7 percent since 2000. The South and the West grew at rates of more than 13 percent while the Northeast and Midwest grew at rates below 4 percent from 2000 to 2010. The five most populous states are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. The five least populous states are Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and South Dakota. The five fastest growing states are Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Texas.

The 2010 Census will be used to reapportion the House and Electoral College and to distribute $400 billion in federal aid to states. The President will submit the Census findings to the 112th Congress in January. Eight states will gain seats in the House of Representatives – Texas will gain 4 seats, and Florida will gain 2 seats while Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will gain one seat per state. Ten states will lose seats – New York and Ohio will lose 2 seats each, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will lose one seat per state.

In February and March, the Census Bureau will release detailed data to the states so the states can begin redistricting. There are likely to be major battles over redistricting, especially in states that are gaining or losing districts. The party with a majority in a state legislature will have the most influence over the redistricting and most of the states gaining seats are controlled by the Republican Party. Two related factors may affect state efforts. First the 2010 Census shows a large growth in the Hispanic population and redistricting must be careful not to harm minority representation under the Voting Rights Act. Second, the Justice Department, which is run by a Democratic Administration, decides whether laws are potentially being violated in redistricting plans.

California, the most populous state, will have the redistricting conducted by an independent commission for the first time after the state passed legislation creating the commission. It will be constructive to see if this approach is efficient and effective.

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Previous Action

Update on Appropriations (9/10)
Congress was unable to complete appropriations before the start of the new federal fiscal year (FY 2011) on October 1, 2010. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution (CR)  using the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 3081) on September 30, 2010. The CR keeps the government running at last year’s (FY 2010) budget levels until at least December 3, 2010. The bill did include $624 million in new funds for the National Nuclear Security Administration for work related to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). 

The only other specific language of interest to the geosciences community is an allotment of  $23 million for the Department of the Interior to increase oil rig inspections with funds coming from an offset of unobligated funds rather than an increase in the budget. Senate amendments to enact a 5 percent rescission across all programs, extend the CR until February, 2011 or to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency from using any funds to implement stricter water standards in Florida were all rejected.

In the House, only two appropriation bills, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development have been passed by the full House and are ready for possible conferencing with the Senate. The other nine bills have been passed by their respective subcommittees, but have not been considered by the full committee.

In the Senate, nine out of 12 bills have been passed by the full Appropriations Committee and are awaiting a vote by the full Senate. Three bills, Defense, Interior & Environment, and Legislative Branch have not been approved by the full committee yet and no funding levels are available for these three measures. The Defense and Interior bills became embroiled in controversies that are not directly related to appropriations.

The Senate energy appropriations measure (S.3635) would provide $5.012 billion for the Office of Science where most basic research by the agency is conducted, $2.288 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy – all within the Department of Energy. The Senate committee supports slightly more spending for these programs than the House subcommittee and both are about $1 billion less than the President’s request.

The Senate science appropriations measure (S.3636) would provide about $5.5 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $5.006 billion for science ($1.802 billion for Earth science) within NASA and $7.353 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). All of these sums represent increases for these programs and are similar to the President’s request and House subcommittee levels, with the exception of less funding for education at NSF in the Senate appropriations.

House Natural Resources Committee Passes Offshore Drilling Bill (7/10)
The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 3534) by a vote of 27 to 21. The legislation would abolish the Minerals Management Service and divide it into three separate agencies: The Bureau of Energy and Resource Management - to manage leasing, permitting and conduct environmental studies; the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement - to conduct all inspections and investigations related to health, safety and environmental regulations; and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue - to collect all offshore and onshore oil and gas and renewable energy-related revenues.

The CLEAR Act would provide full funding, beginning in 2011, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund, and the Oceans Resources Conservation and Assistance Fund. It contains provisions to overhaul onshore oil and gas regulation, create a solar and wind leasing program and boost conservation funding. The committee also unanimously agreed to create a commission to investigate the Deepwater Horizon disaster and ban BP from obtaining new offshore oil leases.

At the markup, the committee rejected an amendment introduced by Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that would have required revenue sharing with states for offshore drilling and another amendment to end the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on exploratory deepwater drilling. The committee defeated Republican measures that would have removed several provisions in the bill, including onshore oil and gas reforms, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a requirement for companies to disclose to the public the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.

House Science Committee Marks Up Two Oil Spill Bills (7/10)
On July 14, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a markup for the Federal Oil Spill Research Program Act (H.R. 2693) and the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 5716).

H.R. 2693 directs the administration to create the Federal Oil Spill Research Committee, tasked with developing a comprehensive program for oil spill research. The bill asks for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to award competitive grants to research institutions for developing prevention and mitigation technologies, and asks that the National Academies evaluate the status of the oil spill research program. The committee amended the language in H.R. 2693 to clarify the meaning of the bill. Some amendments broaden the focus of the bill, such as including research for oil spills from transportation vessels and vehicles, while others clarify communication between the interagency committee and Congress. Human error and the effect of spills on communities are also addressed in the bill’s amendments. The committee voted to report the amended bill favorably by a voice vote.

H.R. 5716 amends Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to redirect the focus of ultra-deep water drilling research towards safety and spill prevention research. The approved amendments ensure that research and technology are focused on environmental protection and worker safety. Two amendments concern the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). One asks that RPSEA give out awards for safety, and the other mandates that RPSEA includes prevention efforts in its annual report.

Senate Considers America COMPETES Reauthorization (7/10)
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) parts of the re-authorization of the 2007 America COMPETES law. The committee’s portion of the bill (S.3605) authorizes larger funding increases for NIST and NSF over three years, rather than smaller increases over a longer five year period that the House approved at the end of June.

The total budget of NSF would be authorized to grow from $8.254 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to $9.943 billion in FY 2013. This would authorize larger budgets than the House-approved version (H.R. 5116) of COMPETES (e.g. the House authorizes $7.481 billion in FY2011 to $8.764 billion in FY 2013). The Senate measure enhances manufacturing research, establishes a green chemistry research program, adjusts graduate student support, enhances research experiences for undergraduates, establishes a research experiences for high school students, and establishes an industry internship among other things.

NIST’s total budget would be authorized at $1 billion in FY 2011 and would grow to $1.128 billion in FY 2013. The measure would establish an Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, who would also serve as the Director of NIST. The bill establishes a green manufacturing and construction research initiative and an emergency communication and tracking research initiative within NIST.

NOAA would receive directions to promote competitiveness and literacy in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The agency would be directed to initiate a workforce in atmospheric and oceanic sciences through the National Academy of Sciences.

NASA would receive directions to promote science literacy, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The bill notes that the International Space Station is a “valuable and unique national asset” which should be supported until at least 2020 as part of maintaining U.S. competitiveness in science and engineering.

The White House Office of Science and Technology would be requested to lead initiatives on a national innovation and competitiveness strategy, coordination of federal science education, coordination of public access to research and coordination of the federal scientific collection.

Two other Senate committees, Energy and Natural Resources and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, have yet to consider their portions of the America COMPETES re-authorization, so sections on research at the Energy Department and science education at the Education Department have not been introduced. These committees have indicated that the legislation is unlikely to be considered until after the November elections, so it may be several months before a full measure is brought to the Senate floor. In addition the appropriation committees in both houses have already drafted funding levels well below the authorized levels for FY 2011 in this bill. Thus stakeholders can only hope the measure progresses quickly in the fall and that authorized levels for future years are seriously considered when the bill becomes law.

Update on Appropriations (7/10)
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 9 out of 12 appropriation bills before the August recess, including most of the science agencies. The committee did not complete Defense, Legislative Branch or Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, leaving the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency without appropriation details. The nine measures await a calendar date on the Senate floor for voting by the full chamber before these measures may be reconciled with House appropriations.

The energy appropriations measure (S.3635) would provide $5.012 billion for the Office of Science where most basic research by the agency is conducted, $2.288 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy – all within the Department of Energy. The Senate committee supports slightly more spending for these programs than the House and both are about $1 billion less than the President’s request.

The science appropriations measure (S.3636) would provide about $5.5 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $5.006 billion for science within NASA and $7.353 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). All of these sums represent healthy increases for these programs and are similar to the President’s request and House levels, with the exception of less funding for education at NSF in the Senate appropriations.

Senator Robert C. Byrd Dies at 92 (6/10)
Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, died June 28, 2010. Senator Byrd had been admitted to the hospital the week before due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, but his staff added that other conditions developed after. Byrd was first elected to the House in 1952 and served three terms. In 1958 Byrd began his career in the U.S. Senate, which spanned eleven presidential administrations. He was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member of the United States Congress at the time of his passing. He led the Democratic caucus as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader. He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate when the Democratic Party had a majority and as President pro tempore he was third in line of presidential succession behind Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House of Representative Nancy Pelosi. For many years, Byrd was the leading Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee and provided support for many West Virginia initiatives through the committee. Senator Byrd made headlines by encouraging the coal industry, an integral part of the West Virginia economy, to cooperate with energy regulators. He recently voted against the Murkowski Resolution, saying that environmental legislation and regulation was inevitable, and it would be better for West Virginia to maintain the coal industry by working with environmental regulators.

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin will appoint a replacement to serve for less than two years. A special election will not be held until November 2012 because the filing deadline has passed. The special election will determine a successor for the final two months of Senator Byrd’s term. Governor Manchin, a Democrat, who is interested in serving in the Senate, has not announced who will replace Byrd, and maintains that he does not have a specific timeline for doing so.

House Approves $304 Million for Oil Spill Response and Caps Discretionary Spending (6/10)
The House sent a supplemental spending bill that includes funds for oil spill response to the Senate right before the Independence Day recess. The House bill, H.R. 4899, contains a total of $304 million for oil spill response, which is almost double the amount the Senate would allow. The legislation delineates how the money should be spent. $130 million is allocated for unemployed fishermen, while $83 million is given to general unemployment assistance and $14 million to help offset the economic effects fishermen are experiencing due to the oil spill. $31 million is distributed to the Department of the Interior to strengthen regulations and monitoring of offshore programs, and $12 million to the White House commission that will investigate the spill itself. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $7 million for oil spill response.

Much of the funding comes from rescissions from programs the committee does not believe need funding. Programs in the Energy, Interior, Education and Agriculture Departments, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency would be rescinded. The president supports most of the supplemental bill, but threatens to veto the bill if certain educational rescissions remain part of it. The measure needs to be reconsidered by the Senate and, given the differences in spending levels, there are likely to be more delays and debates.

The House bill includes a resolution that sets discretionary spending for fiscal year 2011 at $1.121 trillion or about $7 billion below the president’s budget request. Time will tell if Congress is able to reduce spending, resolve significant spending priorities differences and resolve differences with the president’s budget request before the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010. Several key appropriators have suggested that the fiscal year 2011 budget will be delayed until after November elections.

Join Us for Congressional Visits Day in September (6/10)
The American Geological Institute (AGI), in collaboration with many other geoscience societies, invites geoscientists to come to Washington DC for the annual Geosciences Congressional Visits (GEO-CVD) on September 21-22, 2010. Decision makers need to hear from geoscientists. Become a citizen geoscientist and join many of your colleagues for this two-day event uniting geoscience researchers, professionals, students, educators, engineers, and executives in Washington DC to raise visibility and support for the geosciences. A constructive visit from citizen geoscientists about the importance and value of geoscience (and geoscience-related engineering) research and education is the most effective way to inform and impact federal science policy. Visit the GEO-CVD homepage for more information about the event.

House Appropriations Chairman, David Obey, Announces Retirement (4/10)
Representative David Obey (D-WI), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee announced his retirement at the end of this year. Obey has served in the House for 42 years and at the age of 71 he has decided it is time to go. Obey started his political career as a Republican, but is known now as a liberal Democrat. He became chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1994 and is considered a primary architect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Representative Norman Dicks (D-WA) is next in line on the Democratic side of the Appropriations Committee. Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA) serves as the Ranking Member for the Republicans. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA) filled the Democratic vacancy on the committee due to the passing of Representative John Murtha. The November elections will determine the proportion of Democrats and Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee for the 112th Congress and with a few other announced retirements on the committee, there will be more changes to come.

Annual Pick and Gavel Award Given to Murkowski and Holt (4/10)
The Association of American State Geologists (AASG) proudly presented Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) with the 2010 Pick and Gavel Award on March 16, 2010.  The Pick and Gavel Award honors those who have made significant contributions to advancing the role of geoscience in public policy and those who have supported AASG’s goals in national policy. See the full AGI press release (PDF).

Deadlines for Submitting Testimony to Appropriators on the FY2011 Budget (2/10)
Interested in submitting testimony to the House and Senate Appropriators on the President’s request for the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget? If so, the subcommittees and their deadlines are listed below. More information on how to submit testimony is listed on the subcommittee web sites (look in the right side navigation bar on the House pages and at the bottom of the Senate pages).

House Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee—April 14, 2010
House Energy and Water Subcommittee—March 19, 2010
House Interior and Environment Subcommittee—March 26, 2010
House Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee—April 16, 2010

Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee—April 2, 2010
Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee—April 1, 2010
Senate Interior and Environment Subcommittee—May 14, 2010
Senate Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee—April 12, 2010

Strong Science and Education Supporters Announce Retirement (2/10)
Seventeen-year veteran of the House of Representatives, Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) announced he would retire from Congress at the end of this year. He has been a strong supporter of science and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in Congress.

Ehlers serves on three House Committees: Science and Technology (S&T), Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) and Education and Labor. He has been on S&T and T&I since his arrival in Congress, helping to ensure fair funding and investments in Michigan transportation systems, leading the development of the Great Lakes Legacy Act and improving science and education in Michigan and the rest of the country. He previously served on the Administration Committee where he led the efforts to bring the internet to Congress and to create the Library of Congress’ Thomas web site. Thomas is a great online resource for all current and past legislation.

Ehlers is one of three representatives with a background in physics and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. During statements on his retirement he admonished more scientists for not considering a career in Congress. At a recent Committee on Science and Technology hearing Ehlers recounted being asked by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1998 to oversee writing the nation’s first major statement on science policy since 1945. Colleagues at the hearing thanked Ehlers for his service to the country and lauded his career.

The House Science and Technology Committee will also lose Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), who announced he would retire after serving in Congress for 26 years. The recent wave of retirement announcements also includes the Energy and Environment Subcommittee chairman, Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), and Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee members, Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Moran Likely To Chair Interior and Environment Approps Committee (2/10)
After the sudden death of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-PA) on February 8, the House committees are in the process of reshuffling their leadership. The current Interior and Environment Subcommittee chair, Norm Dicks (D-WA), is expected to succeed Murtha as Defense Subcommittee chair. This leaves his seat vacant, with Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) likely to move up to chair. The Interior and Environment Subcommittee is in charge of appropriating funds for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forest Service, Smithsonian, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Congress Raises Debt Limit and Requires PAYGO (2/10)
On February 4, 2010, Congress passed Joint Resolution 45 to increase the statutory limit on the public debt from $12.394 trillion to $14.294 trillion, require pay as you go rules for new spending, and investigate duplicative or wasteful spending in government programs. President Obama signed the measure into law and it is now Public Law 111-139.

House Science and Technology Committee Agenda (1/10)
Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced the agenda for the House Science and Technology Committee for the second session of the 111th Congress. Topping their list of priorities is the re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act, a law that called for a doubling of physical science research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Energy Department’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Some of the other priorities on the agenda include:

  • Make certain the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) promotes new markets and technologies as well as spurring advances in the commercial space industry.
  • Strengthen science, technology, engineering and math education to produce a skilled workforce for future high-tech jobs.
  • Expand research and development (R&D) of alternative energy as well as nuclear energy and nuclear waste containment.
  • Complete legislation to support R&D to mitigate damage from earthquakes and windstorms.
  • Guide R&D for greater safety, cleanliness and reliability of pipelines.
  • Ensure technologies to monitor and verify greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Maintain support for atmospheric and ocean research within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and establish a NOAA Organic Act.
  • Align R&D at the Environmental Protection Agency with its mission and needs.
  • Consider geoengineering and climate engineering R&D.

Congressional Calendars for 2010 (1/10)
The House and Senate have released calendars for the second session of the 111th Congress. The Senate calendar is available from the Senate web page. The House calendar is available from the House of Representatives web page.

Congress Is Tweeting Away Says CRS Report (10/09)
A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report analyzed congressional Twitter use during a two-week period in August 2009. Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows users to post “tweets” of 140 characters or less online that are in turn delivered to their subscribers. The report found that 29 percent of the House and 31 percent of the Senate was registered on Twitter, capitalizing on the new social networking and communication tool to increase communication with their constituency. At the time of the report, 158 Representatives and Senators were using Twitter. Now over 200 are reported “tweeters” according to

The CRS data shows that nearly 1, 200 “tweets” were sent in the two-week sampling, at an average of 85 per day and most being sent on Thursday. From the report, House Republicans sent the most tweets (54 percent), followed by House Democrats (27 percent), Senate Republicans (10 percent), and Senate Democrats (9 percent). “Members' use of Twitter can be divided into six categories: position taking, press or web links, district or state activities, official congressional action, personal, and replies. The data suggest that the most frequent type of tweets were press and web link tweets…followed by official congressional action tweets during session (33 percent) and position-taking tweets during recess (14 percent).”

Refer to or to find members of Congress on Twitter.

Lobbying Firm Involved in Forged Clean Coal Letters (9/09)
Bonner and Associates, a Washington lobbying firm, has been determined to be the source of fourteen forged letters to congressional offices in support of clean coal. The firm has been working for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The coalition claims no responsibility and the firm blames the letters on a single Bonner employee. The letters make pleas for coal and clean coal technology to be included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) and are forged so that they appear to be coming from various constituent groups within given states and districts.

The fourteenth letter (PDF), drafted to look as if it were penned by a Rocky Mount Virginia American Legion Post representative, argues from a veteran’s perspective that “we need to use our readily available resources and focus on using new technologies to make coal more efficient.”

The House bill, H.R. 2454, would set-up a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA), passed the House in May and is awaiting discussion in the Senate. The committee investigating the forgeries is also chaired by Markey.

A PDF of the letter is available from the Washington Post.

Congress returns for a busy fall schedule (8/09)
Congress will return from a long and tiring August recess next week. The issue of health care reform has overwhelmed policy matters and will likely require significant work in September. The passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the third longest serving senator and a key legislator on health care, education and other issues, creates a working gap and power vacuum that may affect progress on key bills. Massachusetts must hold a special election for a new senator which will take some time, so the Senate will once again have a vacant seat. The Democrats will lose a vote needed for the ever-elusive supermajority that they have never obtained in practice. Given the frail health of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the Democrats will likely be down by two votes for most of the fall leaving any measures that are split on partisan lines difficult to pass.

Beyond health care reform there are many other massive legislative efforts with far reaching implications for the nation that Congress will attempt to wrestle with this fall. Key measures of particular interest to the geosciences community include climate change and energy.

The House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) in June and the Senate is now working on the measure. The Senate did not favor large parts of the House bill, so they are working on crafting their own version of a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and the Finance Committee chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) are taking the lead and hope to meet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) September 28 deadline for a floor vote in the Senate. Both committees have tentatively planned public hearings for the week of September 14 and markups of the drafts for the week of September 21.

The House bill (H.R. 2454) calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade system and revisions to the Clean Air Act, but it also addresses the nation’s energy portfolio as a way toward emissions reductions. The measure contains sections related to energy efficiency and conservation, carbon capture and storage and the development and deployment of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The House Republicans countered with the American Energy Act (H.R. 2846). While the two bills have similar energy measures, the emphasis of the American Energy Act is on the creation of jobs while developing renewable, nuclear, and biomass energy sources, as well as producing more domestic oil and natural gas. The Republican bill does not have enough votes for passage, however, parts of it might be considered in other measures that are progressing.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has crafted a separate energy bill, which was approved by the full committee in June and now awaits a vote by the full Senate. The American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462) contains legislation to help improve energy efficiency, energy security and energy market information. Some contentious issues include greater access to offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a national renewable electricity standard and new federal electricity transmission siting authority. Details of the bill of particular interest to the geosciences community include measures for: clean energy technology development, energy innovation and workforce development, to increase domestic production and assessment of oil and natural gas, to increase production of renewable energy on public lands, to assess nuclear waste management and to understand and develop strategies regarding the energy-water nexus.

So the stage is now set for the Senate to finish their version of climate change legislation, try to schedule a vote on a climate change bill and consider a vote on the energy bill. The Senate could also consider combining the climate change and energy measures into one bill for a full Senate vote.

If and when the Senate completes their work on these measures, the legislation would be compared with the Waxman-Markey bill and differences would be hammered out between the House and Senate. Should a compromise bill emerge, then both chambers would need to vote on the final legislation before it could be sent to the President.

Democrat Al Franken Declared Winner of MN Senate Race (6/09)
Democratic challenger Al Franken was declared the winner of the election for the Senate seat in Minnesota by the Minnesota Supreme Court on June 30, 2009, eight months after the election. Hours later, the Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, conceded the election and stated he would abide by the court’s decision. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Franken had won the election by a very slim 312 votes out of about 2.9 million cast.

Governor Pawlenty is expected to sign the certificate on July 1 and Franken will need to submit the certificate to the Senate in order to be sworn in as the junior senator from Minnesota. He will join Senator Amy Klobuchar, the now senior senator from Minnesota. The Senate is on recess until July 6th, so Franken will have to wait a few more days before he can officially begin work in the U.S. Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that Franken will serve on the Health, Education and Labor Committee and the Pensions and Judiciary Committee.

Once seated, Franken gives the Democrats a supermajority of 60 possible votes in the Senate, the largest majority they have had in decades, if one counts the two independent party members, Senators Bernard Sanders (VT) and Joseph Lieberman (CT). If the Democrats and Independents remain united in their votes, then the majority party would have just enough votes to end filibusters and move legislation forward without the need for support from Republican senators. Such a supermajority may help the Senate approve of legislation on climate change, energy and health care, while also making it easier to approve of nominations, such as the currently pending nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for U.S. Supreme Court Justice. It may also make it easier for the Senate to ratify treaties. There are of course no guarantees that the Democrats will always unite for 60 votes as many concerns do cross party lines.

Update on Key Cabinet and Executive Branch Positions (4/09)
In a flurry of activity this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director, and the Secretary of Commerce were all confirmed. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior was approved in committee, but still awaits Senate confirmation. President Obama announced additional nominations for leadership at the Department of Energy.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Dr. John Holdren have been waiting since their relatively non-controversial hearings on February 12. After various holds were placed on the confirmations for reasons unrelated to their qualifications, they were confirmed on March 19 as the new NOAA Administrator and OSTP Director respectively.

The third nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Washington Governor Gary Locke, was quickly ushered through the confirmation hearings and successfully voted the new head of the Department of Commerce (DOC) on March 24. Locke will take over a department with vast jurisdictional areas. Most of the DOC budget goes towards NOAA, but the DOC also monitors everything from business development to the census. Locke pledged to make clean energy technology, climate change, and the environment priorities within his primary goal of “creating jobs for the future.” At the confirmation hearing his financial statements were happily deemed “boring,” and his nomination was sent to the full Senate where he was confirmed by a voice vote. Locke has been touted as an environmentalist with a bipartisan reputation.

The Deputy Secretary of the Interior nominee, David Hayes, was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee on March 12. At the confirmation hearing, he pledged that harnessing renewable energy potential on public lands, better understanding climate change impacts on public lands, and determining how those lands can play a role in combating climate change will be the highest priorities at Department of the Interior (DOI). A full hearing write-up is available on our federal agencies page.

Despite a majority of the committee approving Hayes, Senator Bob Bennet (R-UT) is disappointed with some of Hayes’ responses and has stated that he will hold up the nomination on the floor. Bennet felt that Hayes gave him contradictory information regarding the sale of Utah oil and gas leases. Until he gets a better response from DOI, he will oppose the nomination. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who voted for Hayes in committee, says she might side with Bennet on the floor. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ) have also expressed concerns with the nomination, but are not predicted to block the nomination on the floor. Hayes previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 1999-2001.

There was also movement on filling key leadership positions at the Department of Energy (DOE). President Obama nominated BP chief scientist Steven Koonin to be undersecretary for Science and Brookings Institution policy analyst David Sandalow to be assistant secretary for Policy and International Affairs. The president also announced that Steve Isakowitz will remain as DOE’s chief financial officer.

Koonin was professor of theoretical physics and provost of the California Institute of Technology over a 30-year period before moving to BP to focus on alternative and renewable energy. He worked with Steven Chu, when Chu ran the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to initiate the Energy Biosciences Institute at the lab, a 10-year, $500 million research partnership with BP, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.

Sandalow served as assistant secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science under President Clinton and as senior director for Environmental Affairs on the National Security Council. He also served as an executive with the World Wildlife Fund and as chairman of the Energy and Climate Working Group of the Clinton Global Initiative after leaving government. Sandalow authored "Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction" in 2007 and supports alternative and renewable energy.

Update on Congressional Subcommittees (2/09)
With all the committee assignments made, the final subcommittees and their chairs were released. There has been some shuffling in key committees for the geosciences, including in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee has reorganized its subcommittees to fit with its projected priorities. The previous Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, and Children’s Health Protection Subcommittee been dissolved. Global warming issues will now be handled by the full committee and each of the later two topics is a separate subcommittee. Wildlife protection and water quality are now linked together and will be covered by the new Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, chaired by ocean, water, and wildlife advocate Senator Ben Carbin (D-MD) A completely new subcommittee, Green Jobs and the New Economy, will be chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who is a longtime proponent of green jobs and renewable technology.  The Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health subcommittee will be taken over by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) who is praised by environmentalists for his interest in Superfund issues.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also reorganized its subcommittees. The Science, Technology and Innovation Subcommittee with join the Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences Subcommittee to become the Science and Space Subcommittee chaired by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Separate subcommittees for Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion and Communications and Technology Subcommittee were also created with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) as the respective chairs.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee makes some big changes to its subcommittees. Of the four subcommittees, three get new chairs. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will chair the Energy Subcommittee, steering its priorities towards looking at energy’s role in climate change, renewable energy, smart grid technology, research labs, market regulations, and nuclear waste cleanup. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), with strong support from environmental groups and an interest in mining reform and a carbon cap and trade system, will head the National Parks Subcommittee. The newest committee member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who is heralded as a protector of the Great Lakes from drilling, invasive species, water diversion and the adverse effects of climate change, will be in charge of the Water and Power Subcommittee.

In the House, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) will chair the new Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This new subcommittee joins the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee and the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. It will be the starting point for the climate legislation Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants to get to the house floor this year.

Update on Congressional Committees (1/09)
The House Appropriations Committee has several changes to Republican leadership of subcommittees that handle geoscience issues. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will be the new Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, where he is considered to be a swing vote who leans in a pro-environmental direction. Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) will be the new Ranking Member of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee. His past voting record according to the League of Conservation Voters leans against environmental groups. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) will be the new Ranking Member of the Commerce and Science Subcommittee. Wolf has supported science in the past and there is optimism that he will try to support science within the subcommittee.

The Senate Appropriations Committee does not have any major changes to subcommittee leadership among the Democrats while the Republicans are still deciding on leadership roles. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) is a relatively high ranking member of the committee and given that he has now been nominated for Commerce Secretary, the Republicans may wait until he is confirmed to decide on subcommittee leadership.

Several new members have been added to the Appropriations Committee from both parties. The new Democrats on the committee are Mark Pryor (AR) and Jon Tester (MT). The new Republicans on the committee are Susan Collins (ME), George Voinovich (OH) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). All of the new members have been generally supportive of science in the past, but they must each deal with the direct responsibility of setting budget priorities among many important programs.

The Senate has also determined the membership of other key geoscience-related committees. On the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, Democrats Jon Tester (MT) and Daniel Akaka (HI) will leave the committee while Evan Bayh (IN), Deborah Stabenow (MI), Mark Udall (CO) and Jeanne Shaheen (NH) join the committee as new members.

On the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Tom Carper (D-DE) leaves, while Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mark Begich (D-AK)  and Mike Johanns (R-NE) arrive as brand new senators and members of the committee. The new chair is Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia.

On the Environment and Public Works, the new Democrats are Tom Udall (NM), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). All three are likely to be aligned with Democratic efforts to develop a climate change bill in the committee.

Over in the House, there are not many changes in the leadership of key geoscience-related committees. The Democratic Caucus has completed their committee membership selections, however the Republicans have announced committee leaders but not all of their committee members yet.  Committee web sites and member web sites will be updated as membership is settled or updated.

The House Natural Resources Committee does have some changes of particular note. First two subcommittees will be combined into one covering Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) will be the chair. Second, the Ranking Member of the full committee has changed from Don Young of Alaska to Doc Hastings of Washington. Hastings served on the Natural Resources committee many years ago and is returning to the committee after giving up his leadership of the House Ethics Committee. In his press release about the change, the Congressman notes: “Of importance to Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest, the Committee oversees the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects (Columbia Basin Project and Yakima Project), endangered species recovery, federal hydropower projects, Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILT) payments and firefighting on federal lands.”

For a list of Senate committee assignments please go here.
For a list of House committee assignments as a PDF file go here.

Update on Members of the Senate (1/09)
After an unusually chaotic start in the U.S. Senate, the Senate has almost reached its full membership. After much debate, Roland Burris was sworn in as the new junior Senator from Illinois, filling the seat vacated by President Obama. He is expected to vote with the Democrats on most issues, however, his positions on many policies are unknown because he has been out of public office for awhile.

Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from a more conservative and rural region of New York, was chosen by New York Governor Paterson to replace Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the new Secretary of State. Gillibrand at 42 years of age becomes the youngest Senator in the chamber, after spending two years as a Representative in the House. She is considered a moderate Democrat and is very close to a centrist position based on analyses of her two-year voting record in the House. Of particular interest to geoscientists, she will serve on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Both committees will have a role to play in climate change legislation, other environmental legislation, water issues, soil issues and other matters.

Denver Public School Superintendent, Michael Bennet, was chosen by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to replace Senator Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior. Like Burris and Gillibrand, Bennet was considered a long shot for the seat and the 44-year old Democrat, who has never campaigned or held public office, was a bit of a surprise. Ritter, in announcing his choice stated “Our challenges are so serious that it will take a new generation of leaders, a new way of thinking and a bold new approach to problem-solving to steer us through this.” Although Bennet has no record in public office, he is expected to vote with the Democrats and given his background will likely be an advocate for education. He has stated that the No Child Left Behind Act should be mended rather than ended.

The court battles continue in the saga of the next senator from Minnesota after a 225 vote victory by Al Franken. Al Franken was declared the winner by the Minnesota state canvassing board, but he has not been certified by the state. Norm Coleman has a lawsuit challenging the results while Franken has petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to certify him as the winner. Both have spent time at the U.S. Senate and confer regularly with their senatorial party caucuses. On February 3, a Minnesota court ruled that almost 5,000 rejected absentee ballots could be reviewed as requested by Coleman. It could take a very long time to consider each ballot and Franken still has almost 1,000 different rejected ballots that he may seek reconsideration for.

In an interesting twist, President Obama has nominated Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) for Secretary of Commerce. If Gregg is confirmed, then the Democratic Governor of New Hampshire, John Lynch, will choose a replacement. After much behind the scenes discussions between Gregg and Lynch, it appears that Lynch will likely choose Republican Bonnie Newman to replace Gregg. Newman is a former Gregg chief of staff and former Reagan White House staffer. She is expected to finish Gregg’s term and not run for re-election in 2010, thus opening the seat to a non-incumbent race. The promise to appoint a Republican would keep the Democrats one seat shy of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster however the promise to only serve for two years would open the seat to competitive new candidates from both parties. Time will tell if this plan will work for all.

Update on the New House Members– Committees Taking Shape (12/08)
The House of Representatives has fewer membership problems than the Senate. One vacant seat exists in the 5th district of Illinois as Rahm Emanuel resigned on January 2 to become White House Chief of Staff. Illinois will complete a special election on April 7. As of January 6, the House begins its session with 256 Democrats, 178 Republicans and 1 vacant. Democratic Congresswoman Hilda Solis (32nd, CA) is expected to resign if she is confirmed as the new Secretary of Labor and then California will proceed with a special election in that district.

The House is focused on setting up committees, passing some rule changes, working on an economic stimulus package and finishing the fiscal year 2009 budget before the continuing resolution expires on March 6.

House Democrats added members to key committees. Eight relatively junior members were added to the Energy and Commerce Committee including: Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands; Kathy Castor of Florida; John Sarbanes of Maryland; Zack Space, Betty Sutton and Chris Murphy of Ohio; Jerry McNerney of California; and Bruce Braley of Iowa. All except Christensen were elected to Congress in 2006.

Two new Democrats were added on the Appropriations Committee - Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and John Salazar of Colorado.

House Science and Technology Committee Outlines 2009 Agenda (12/08)
Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) released an agenda overview for the House Science and Technology Committee. The committee plans to “work on issues including energy technology development, climate and weather monitoring, math and science education programs, nanotechnology, the space program, aviation research, and technical standards for industries from energy to health care to telecommunications.”

The committee plans to work with the incoming Administration to secure full funding for the America COMPETES Act and to implement the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). They will also provide oversight to ensure that authorized energy technology programs (such as geothermal and carbon capture and storage) are implemented and review programs at the Energy Department’s Office of Science to ensure they are integrated with applied research and technology transfer. The committee will address new energy challenges, such as nuclear reactors and pipelines for new fuels and carbon dioxide.

With regards to the environment, the committee will address needed technologies for climate change monitoring, affect more coordination of Federal research on water quality and quantity and conduct a “wholesale review” of weather and ocean research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including work on ocean acidification. In the area of risk reduction, the committee plans to “Review and refocus Federal disaster mitigation research programs related to fire, wind and earthquakes” and to make sure that Department of Homeland Security aligns research priorities with security needs.

Turning toward space, the committee plans to work with the new Administration on a multi-year authorization for NASA and review the “capabilities of emerging space-faring nations and explore an expansion of international space collaboration”

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There are several key committees in the House and Senate that handle legislation that affects the geoscience community. Below is a list of those committees, followed by more detailed information about each committee, key subcommittees, and links to the official websites.

Senate Committees:

House Committees:


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Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Thomas Harkin (D-IA), Chair
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Ranking Member
The Agriculture Committee separated from what was essentially the Commerce Committee in 1825 after senators argued that agricultural interests were distinct from and not always best served when included with Commerce. Today this committee also handles legislation covering forests, logging, and nutrition. Geoscience-related issues include investments in agricultural research primarily related to soil science, land use issues, water resource issues, and research and land use related to the Forest Service, all of which are included in the Department of Agriculture, but overlap with many agencies within the Department of the Interior.

Key subcommittees include:
Energy, Science and Technology (Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chair and John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member).

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Senate Committee on Appropriations
Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Chair
Thad Cochran (R-MS), Ranking Member
The Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over discretionary spending legislation in the Senate. Discretionary spending, as opposed to direct spending, requires an annual appropriation bill to disperse the funds to the different federal agencies and programs. About 40 percent of total government spending is discretionary so these committees can yield a great deal of power and control over federal priorities. Key federal agencies of interest to the geosciences include the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and programs within the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior. Click here to find out more about geoscience appropriations and the budget process. Below are the key appropriations subcommittees that handle geoscience funding.

Key subcommittees include:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chair and Robert Bennett (R-UT), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (Barbara Mikulski, (D-MD), Chair and Richard Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Member)
Energy and Water Development (Bryon Dorgan (D-ND), Chair and TBD, Ranking Member)
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chair and TBD, Ranking Member)

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Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chair
Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-TX), Ranking Member
This committee covers all matters related to the Department of Commerce, which includes legislation related to programs, projects, and research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. The committee also has jurisdiction over independent agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The committee covers much of the Earth and space sciences, which should help the legislators to integrate the work between these agencies and programs.

Key subcommittees include:
Communications and Technology (John Kerry (D-MA), Chair and John Ensign (R-NV), Ranking Member)
Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion (Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chair and Mel Martinez (R-FL), Ranking Member)
Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard (Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ranking Member)
Science and Space (Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chair and David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member)

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Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member
The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction and legislative responsibilities for all domestic energy policy, international energy affairs, emergency preparedness as it relates to energy, nuclear waste policy, privatization of natural resources, mining policy, territorial policy (including issues affecting Antarctica, the Outer Continental Shelf, and drilling leases), reclamation projects, and groundwater resources. It provides most of the jurisdiction for the Department of Energy and Department of the Interior.

Key subcommittees include:
Energy (Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair and Jim Risch (R-ID), Ranking Member)
Public Lands and Forests (Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair and John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member)
Water and Power (Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair and Sam Brownback (R-KS), Ranking Member)

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Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
The committee covers a wide range of environmental legislation and issues, including: policy, research and development, nuclear safety, air pollution, toxic hazards other than pesticides, solid waste disposal, environmental aspects of the Outer Continental Shelf, and water quality. The committee has oversight of all public works projects, including: flood controls and improvements, federal levee systems, dams, and bridges. In addition, the committee is responsible for issues related to job creation through the development and deployment of “green” technologies and practices. The committee has major oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Key subcommittees include:
Clean Air and Nuclear Safety (Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chair and David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member)
Green Jobs and the New Economy (Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chair and Kit Bond (R-MO), Ranking Member)
Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health (Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chair and Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ranking Member)
Transportation and Infrastructure (Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair and George Voinovich (R-GA), Ranking Member)
Water and Wildlife (Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair and Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ranking Member)

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Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chair
Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member
The Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions manages most science education and workforce legislation in the Senate. The committee’s education priority is to meet the need for a highly skilled workforce in the changing global economy. The committee has jurisdiction over education and workforce development, including: Head Start, the No Child Left Behind Act, Higher Education, and Job and Vocational Training and the Workforce Investment Act.  It has jurisdiction over most of the Department of Education.

Key subcommittees include:
Children and Families (Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Chair and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Member)
Employment and Workplace Safety (Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Agriculture
Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chair
Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member
The Committee on Agriculture has a varied set of responsibilities, many of which interest the geoscience community. The issues include renewable energy, rural development, disaster assistance, conservation, agricultural research and development, and forestry. In particular, the Conservation Subcommittee is committed to soil, water, and resource conservation, watershed programs, and bioenergy. The Oversight Subcommittee includes jurisdiction over forestry and forest reserves.

Key subcommittees include:
Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research (Tim Holden (D-PA), Chair and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Ranking Member)
Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry (Joe Baca (D-CA), Chair and Jo Bonner (R-AL), Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Appropriations
Dave Obey (D-WI), Chair
Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Ranking Member
The Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over discretionary spending legislation in the House. Discretionary spending, as opposed to direct spending, requires an annual appropriation bill to disperse the funds to the different federal agencies and programs. About 40 percent of the total government spending is discretionary so this committee can yield a great deal of power and control over federal priorities. Key agencies of interest to the geosciences receiving funding from these committees include the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and programs within the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior. Click here to find out more about geoscience appropriations and the budget process. Below are the appropriations subcommittees that handle geoscience funding.

Key subcommittees include:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair and Jack Kingston (R-GA), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Chair and Frank Wolf (R-VA), Ranking Member)
Energy and Water Development (Peter J. Visclosky (D-IN), Chair and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Ranking Member)
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Norman Dicks (D-WA), Chair and Mike Simpson (R-ID), Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Education and Labor
George Miller (D-CA), Chair
Buck McKeon (R-CA), Ranking Member
The Education and Labor Committee is responsible for ensuring that students and workers can advance in a changing school system and a competitive global economy.
The committee has jurisdiction over education and workforce programs, including: elementary and secondary school initiatives, teacher quality and training programs, higher education programs, and job training and workforce development initiatives.
Of interest to the geoscience community, the committee has oversight over programs encouraging investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational and vocational fields.

Key committees include:
Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education (Dale Kildee (D-MI), Chair and Michael Castle (R-DE), Ranking Member)
Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Chair and John Kline (R-MN), Ranking Member)
Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness (Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), Chair and Ric Keller (R-FL), Ranking Member)
Workforce Protections (Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Chair and Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chair
Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Member
The Committee on Energy and Commerce has a broad area of focus of which the geosciences are concerned mainly with the energy side. This committee has control of legislation that relates to general energy policy, including the exploration, production, storage, conservation, and regulation of all energy resources (conventional, unconventional, and renewable). The committee also regulates nuclear energy research and the development of reactors. This committee will play a role in drafting climate change legislation as well.

Key subcommittees include:
Energy and Environment (Edward Markey (D-MA), Chair and Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member)
Communications, Technology, and the Internet (Rick Boucher (D-VA), Chair and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection (Bobby Rush (D-IL), Chair and George Radanovich (R-CA), Ranking Member)
Oversight and Investigations (Bart Stupak (D-MI), Chair and Greg Walden (R-OR), Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Natural Resources
Nick Rahall (D-WV), Chair
Doc Hastings (R-WA), Ranking Member
The Committee on Natural Resources has oversight of ocean, mineral, water, land, and energy resources. It has budget oversight of related programs within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Mineral Management Service (MMS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, and Bureau of Reclamation. The committee will focus on planning for the potential impacts of climate change on natural resources. Related to this goal the committee will work on protecting and sustainably using the nation’s natural resources by managing coastal areas, improving ocean governance (especially as it relates to the offshore resources), advancing innovation in ocean research and technology, reforming the 1872 Mining Law, regulating coal ash, exploring drilling and renewable energy options on the Outer Continental Shelf, examining oil shale development, developing carbon sequestration options, and overseeing water management and aging water infrastructure.

Key subcommittees include:
Energy and Mineral Resources (Jim Costa (D-CA), Chair and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Ranking Member)
Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife (Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Chair and Henry Brown (R-SC), Ranking Member)
National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Chair and Rob Bishop (R-UT), Ranking Member)
Water and Power (Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Chair and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA, Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Science and Technology
Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chair
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Ranking Member
The Science and Technology Committee jurisdiction encompasses all non-defense federal scientific research and development. The committee covers portions of a number of federal agencies, including: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The proposed agenda for the current committee will focus on technological innovations and developments in the energy sector as a way to strengthen the economy and U.S. competitiveness, which includes helping start the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) program. The committee will could also be influential in tackling all encompassing issues facing Congress, like emissions regulations.

Key subcommittees include:
Space and Aeronautics (Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Chair and Pete Olson (R-TX), Ranking Member)
Technology and Innovation (David Wu (D-OR), Chair and Adrian Smith (R-NE), Ranking Member)
Research and Science Education (Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Chair and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Ranking Member)
Energy and Environment (Brian Baird (D-NC), Chair and Bob Inglis (R-SC, Ranking Member)

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House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
James Oberstar (D-MN), Chair
John Mica (R-FL), Ranking Member
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has jurisdiction over some geoscience related topics, including: federal management of natural disasters, flood control and improvements, pollution of coastal and inland waters, public works dams and bridges, and water power. The committee is concerned with reauthorizing the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and enacting a Water Resources Development Act.

Key subcommittees include:
Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Material (Corrine Brown (D-FL), Chair and Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment (Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chair and John Boozman (R-AK), Ranking Member)

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House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
Edward Markey (D-MA), Chair
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Ranking Member
A select committee is created to perform a special function not explicitly covered by one of the other standing committees. It is often more investigative than legislative, and is disbanded once the duties have been met. The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was started in the 110th Congress, and renewed for the 111th Congress. The committee cannot draft any legislation, but can hold hearings, present findings, and make recommendations. It works in conjunction with House standing committees to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources and to make substantial reductions in greenhouse emissions and other activities contributing climate change.

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Sources: AGI's Monthly Review, E&E Daily

Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Maureen Moses, AGI/AAPG Spring 2010 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; Elizabeth Brown, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Elizabeth Huss, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Kiya Wilson, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, AGI/AAPG Fall 2010 Intern.

Background section includes material from the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and relevant committee and subcommittee websites.

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

Last updated on January 5, 2011


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