Federal Agencies: Structure and Status (11/5/10)
The executive branch is comprised of the Executive Office of the President and the federal executive departments. The heads of these departments belong to the Presidential Cabinet. According to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the Cabinet is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the member’s office. There are 14 executive departments as well as some independent agencies which can have cabinet status. Of the 14 departments, the geoscience community is concerned with the programs within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Education (ED), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of the Interior (DOI). The independent agencies the geoscience community follows are: the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Smithsonian Institution.
White House Launches Agency Challenge Web Site
The White House has released a new web site, Challenge.gov, which allows government agencies to post problems and challenge members of the public to solve them. This results-oriented initiative aims to spur innovation and creativity. So far, more than twenty agencies have posted challenges, including NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Authors of winning submissions receive recognition, and sometimes prizes. A challenge posted by NASA seeks a robot prototype that can locate and retrieve geologic samples in varied terrain without human control, for a prize of $1.5 million.
Reorganization at NIST
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is abandoning their discipline-based laboratory structure and realigning along the agency’s mission areas. NIST previously had 18 laboratory, extramural program, and administrative units, with a large number reporting straight to the director. This arrangement has been deemed untenable, as many senior managers found they lacked the authority and resources to carry out their responsibilities. The reorganization is expected to address that problem, while providing the Director’s Office with a senior career leadership team and enhancing accountability. Three career Associate Directors will replace the Deputy Director, and the ten laboratory units will be consolidated into six. There will be no reductions in force, and President Obama has committed to doubling NIST’s budget by 2017.
Back to top
DOI Releases Scientific Integrity Plan (9/10)
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a Secretarial Order on September 29, 2010 that establishes a policy to ensure scientific integrity in the work and the use of that work within the Department of the Interior. Before the order, only the U.S. Geological Survey had a scientific integrity policy among all the bureaus. A draft of the policy was released for public comment on August 31 and the policy was updated based on many comments. The most significant criticism of the draft was that it failed to cover all DOI employees, in particular political appointees. The revised secretarial order covers all employees as well as contractors, cooperators, partners, volunteers and permittees who are involved in scientific activities.
Senate Confirms NSF Director (9/10)
The National Science Foundation has a new director, Dr. Subra Suresh. The Senate confirmed his six-year appointment on September 29, 2010. Suresh has been the Dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research focused on understanding the properties of engineered and biological materials, especially at submicroscopic scales. Suresh has a Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, a Masters from Iowa State University and a Doctor of Science from MIT. Suresh is replacing Dr. Arden Bement, who served as NSF ’s Director for six years and now leads the Global Policy Research Institute at Purdue University.
USGS Expands Social Media (8/10)
In an effort to reach more people and provide timely information on pressing issues such as natural hazards, climate change, water availability, energy, and mineral resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has expanded its social media campaign. The USGS has multiple twitter feeds, each pertaining to a certain issues, including the Twitter Earthquake Detector (TED) (@USGSted) which tracks Twitter responses to earthquakes. The USGS also offers RSS feeds and has a dedicated YouTube site. Visit the social media page for links and more information.
Reorganization of USGS Management and Budget Structure (8/10)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced that it will be realigning its management and budget structure in order to enhance the interdisciplinary focus of its science programs as outlined in the "Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges–U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007–2017" report. This realignment will help remove barriers to USGS scientist collaboration across programs. The two major organizational changes will include the dissolution of the Regional Directors management layer and the reorganization of the Associate Directorates. Traditionally, Associate Directors have headed programs grouped under the disciplines of geology, biology, geography, hydrology, and, most recently, geospatial information. These programs will be replaced by fields that cover climate change, water resources, natural hazards, energy and minerals, ecosystems, and data integration programs. An Office of Science Quality and Integrity will be created as part of the changes to ensure continued high standards of USGS science. The realignment will not alter congressionally funded programs - these programs will remain intact and will be located within one of the six new Science Strategy Associate Directorates. Implementation will begin in fiscal year 2011.
USGS EDMAP Survey Results (7/10)
Each year, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) conducts a survey aimed at gauging the impacts of the EDMAP program on its participants. EDMAP, the education component of NCGMP, supports undergraduate and graduate students in a one-year mentored bedrock and surficial geologic mapping project that focuses on a specific geographic area. This interactive and meaningful program helps students gain experience and knowledge in geologic mapping and contributes to the efforts to produce geologic maps for the Nation.
Since 1996, NCGMP has supported geologic mapping efforts of more than 800 students working with more than 230 professors at 140 universities in 44 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. This year’s survey shows that EDMAP-supported students have near universal satisfaction with all aspects of the EDMAP experience, including the amount of knowledge gained and the adequacy of their preparation. Also, 82 percent of the participants stated that the program has helped them in some way, and all of the students have gone on to subsequent education or employment in the geosciences. Examples of the variety of positions the students have filled include research geologist, research analyst, project manager, and laboratory technician. More information on NCGMP and the EDMAP program can be found here.
USGS Announces New Assessment Method for Carbon Sequestration (7/10)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently announced a new methodology which is able to assess the mass of CO2 that can potentially be injected into underground rock units. This new method will allow the USGS to perform a national assessment of CO2 storage potential.
The methodology was developed in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which authorized the USGS to develop the methods necessary to conduct a nationwide assessment. The methodology allows for assessments at scales ranging from regional to sub-basinal. While many reports have previously calculated subsurface pore volume for potential CO2 storage (i.e. Bachu et al., 2007, and van der Meer and Egberts, 2008), this is the first methodology to use fully probabilistic methods to incorporate geologic uncertainty in calculations of storage potential. For more information, visit the carbon sequestration page of the USGS Energy Resource Program.
Representatives Call for Lubchenco’s Resignation Following Misuse of NOAA Funds (7/10)
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) has called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco to resign in light of recent fisheries controversy.
Earlier this month, an audit of the agency by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department found that NOAA’s law enforcement officials have been misusing penalties collected from fishermen. It was Lubchenco who requested the report and in response to the audit’s results, Lubchenco stated that she was “deeply troubled” by the handling of funds. NOAA is working to implement proper budgeting, expenditure tracking, accounting, legal opinions, expenditure approvals and external review.
Frank has been critical of Lubchenco in the past, particularly over the continued implementation of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires federal fisheries managers to end overfishing by 2010. Frank says that Lubchenco should have worked to alter the law to ease the transition for Northeastern fishermen. Frank’s call for Lubchenco’s resignation was echoed by several other representatives, including John Tierney (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). Frank later backed off of his call after the Obama administration assured him that the fishing industry's problems would have "the highest priority."
Jacob Lew Nominated for Director of OMB (7/10)
President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jacob Lew to serve as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Lew, who would replace Peter Orszag, served as OMB Director under President Clinton. He is credited with balancing the federal budget in the 1990’s and creating a budget surplus. The nomination comes at a time when the federal deficit is $1.3 trillion. Lew will have to be confirmed by the Senate, although he is not expected to face much opposition.
EPA Seeks Public Comment on Strategic Plan (6/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft of its fiscal year 2011-2015 strategic plan, and is seeking public comment. Administrator Lisa Jackson’s primary priorities over the next five years include: taking action on climate change, improving air quality, protecting America’s waters, cleaning up our communities, assuring the safety of chemicals, expanding the conversation of environmentalism and working for environmental justice, and building strong state and tribal partnerships. Information on the draft plan can be found on the EPA’s website, and comments on the draft may be submitted here through July 30. The docket ID number is EPA-OA-0486. The final strategic plan will be released by September 30.
EPA Supports Reinstating "Polluter Pays" Tax (6/10)
The Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have asked Congress to reinstate the “polluter pays” tax on petroleum and chemical companies that once helped pay for Superfund site cleanup. The tax expired in 1995 and was never renewed by Congress. Since 1995, the fund has dwindled from $5 billion to $65 million and since 2003 cleanup of so-called “orphaned” sites, where no responsible party can be found, has depended on congressional appropriations. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson estimated that reinstating the Superfund tax—four fees on crude oil, imported petroleum and chemical products, and corporate taxable income—would raise $18.9 billion over 10 years and help speed the rate of site cleaned up.
On June 22 the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health held a hearing to discuss the Polluter Pays Restoration Act (S.3164), legislation introduced by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that closely follows the EPA’s proposal. A full summary of this hearing can be found here. The testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing, can be found here.
EPA Sets Stricter Sulfur Dioxide Limits (6/10)
On June 3, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new health standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions for the first time in nearly forty years. SO2 emissions have been linked to emphysema, asthma, respiratory distress, and bronchitis. The new one hour standard is set at 75 parts per billion (ppb) of SO2. This level is designed to protect against short-term exposure because research indicates that short-term exposure poses the greatest risk to human health. As a result of this, the EPA revoked the previous standard, which allowed 140 ppb SO2 averaged over a twenty four hour period. The EPA is also increasing monitoring of sulfur dioxide, requiring that monitoring stations be implemented where emissions affect largely populated areas, and changing the Air Quality Index to reflect the new standards.
The new rule only addresses the primary standards affected by SO2; protection of public health. Secondary standards—those protecting public welfare and the environment—will be addressed in a separate review set for completion in 2012.
MMS Gets a Name Change, Just Call it "BOE" (6/10)
As of June 21, 2010, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has been re-organized. The Bureau of Ocean Energy, Reform and Management, or Bureau of Energy (BOE) for short, comes with reforms that attempt to remedy the problems of MMS uncovered by Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A new director accompanies the name change. Michael Bromwich, the former Justice Department Inspector General, will head BOE as it initiates multiple reforms.
The reforms include separating the conflicting missions of BOE into three different departments: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue. Stronger safety requirements will be issued to outer continental shelf (OCS) operators, including new blowout prevention requirements. A six month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf is a part of the reforms. The Department of the Interior (DOI) maintains the necessity of the moratorium in order to implement the new safety regulations in the Gulf of Mexico. A recent court ruling struck down the moratorium and DOI is currently considering next steps.
Bill Introduced to Strengthen Nonprofit Collaboration with Federal Agencies (6/10)
On June 15 Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act of 2010 (H.R.5533), legislation that seeks to strengthen the partnership between the nonprofit sector and the federal government. The bill would bring together leaders from nonprofits, foundations, businesses and all levels of the government in a council called the “United States Council on Nonprofit Organizations and Community Solutions.” The council would identify high-priority issues and make recommendations to Congress and the administration.
The Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act would also create an “Interagency Working Group on Nonprofit Organizations and the Federal Government” to improve coordination among agencies and nonprofit organizations with the aim of enhancing outcomes and accountability. Finally, the bill would authorize the Department of Commerce to compile data on nonprofits and develop metrics for performance, as it does for private sector industries. The bill has been endorsed by the National Council of Nonprofits.
Murkowski’s EPA Resolution Fails (6/10)
The Senate failed to pass the resolution introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The 47-53 vote gives Democrats hope that comprehensive climate and energy legislation can pass this year.
The EPA independently ruled in December 2009 that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. This followed a 2007 Supreme Court mandate that EPA regulate GHG emissions if they found them harmful to human health. Most Democrats see the EPA ruling and subsequent failure of the Murkowski resolution as a forward push for clean energy in Congress, while Republicans are still worried allowing EPA to regulate GHGs will bog down industry with regulations and hurt the economy. Murkowski did not believe the resolution could become law, but used the vote to make it clear that she felt the EPA was inappropriately forcing the Senate to rush into a comprehensive climate bill.
Administration’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (6/10)
Although the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was destroyed on April 20, the Macondo Prospect oil well continues to leak oil and gas at a rate that is variable and difficult to accurately estimate. Changing conditions have affected the flow rate and made estimates more uncertain. Responders continue to use boom, controlled burns, chemical dispersants, skimming, and onshore clean-up to attempt to contain and mitigate the oil spill. The federal government continues to monitor air, water, wildlife and onshore conditions and has restricted commercial, recreational and other uses of Gulf waters and coastal areas based on different hazards presented by the oil spill.
The most significant development within the administration in June was a meeting between President Obama and Vice President Biden with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and BP executives on June 15. The meeting led to a financial agreement between BP and the federal government.
BP has agreed to the following:
- BP will contribute $20 billion over four years ($5 billion per year starting in 2010) to pay for economic claims to those affected by the oil spill.
- An independent claims facility, led by Kenneth Feinberg, who previously administered the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, will be set-up.
- The $20 billion represents neither a floor nor a ceiling on potential costs to BP and BP will not assert any liability cap defined under the Oil Pollution Act.
- In addition to the $20 billion, BP will contribute $100 million to support unemployed oil rig workers and has previously committed $500 million for a 10 year Gulf of Mexico research initiative to enhance long-term monitoring, improve understanding of the environmental impacts and to develop better methods to mitigate oil and gas pollution.
Major re-organization and changes in oversight and regulation of offshore oil and gas drilling at the Department of the Interior (DOI) include:
Other key agency responses of particular interest to the geosciences community include:
- NOAA models long-term oil threat to Gulf and East Coast on July 2.
- EPA releases first toxicity testing results for some oil dispersants on July 1.
- Coast Guard and EPA release directive to BP on managing recovered oil, contaminated materials and other wastes from clean-up on July 1.
- NOAA will study loop current and Florida waters impacts from oil spill and the Integrated Ocean Observing System will track oil in the water column.
- The Joint Analysis Group (JAG) releases report on subsea monitoring in the vicinity of the oil spill on June 23.
- The Flow Rate Technical Group issues revised estimates of the oil spill flow rate of between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day for part of June on June 15.
- NOAA launches a website to provide the latest data and maps on the extent of the oil spill on June 14.
- NOAA releases an update on oil spill research missions with links to more information.
- The Flow Rate Technical Group releases an update on scientific analyses of flow rates from well with links to more information on June 10.
- Department of Energy releases data about the malfunctioning blowout preventer on June 8.
- NOAA completes initial analysis of offshore subsurface water samples on June 8.
- The Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program workgroup calls for submissions of white papers on oil spill response and recovery on June 4.
- NOAA highlights critical role of science in oil spill response on June 2.
Additional information about the administration’s response to the oil spill is available from a new Deepwater BP Oil Spill blog that replaces a more succinct oil spill response timeline which covers the period from April 20 to May 25. The Primary BP Oil Spill Response web site remains the main portal for all federal government information.
OMB Issues Memorandum Asking Agencies to Identify Spending Cuts (6/10)
On June 8, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to federal agencies asking leadership to identify fiscal year 2012 spending cuts of 5 percent. The agencies are directed to target low-priority programs and not just suggest a 5 percent cut across all programs. A similar memorandum was issued last year.
In related news, Peter Orszag, Director of OMB, is likely to step down some time in the next few months, probably in July. It was expected that Orszag would serve a short term as many OMB directors in the past have stayed for about 2 years. People mentioned as possible replacements for Orszag include Gene Sperling, a former economic adviser for President Clinton, Laura Tyson, former chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and Robert Greenstein, director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. A new OMB director will need to hit the ground running as OMB finishes work on the fiscal year 2013 budget plan in the fall.
MMS To Be Split Into Three Agencies (5/10)
After the Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has been looking to streamline regulation and oversight, eliminate corruption, and improve overall effectiveness of the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a Secretarial Order on May 19 to divide MMS into three separate entities.
The agency collects $13 billion in revenue from offshore drilling annually and is the chief regulatory body for the offshore oil and gas industry. The proposed restructuring will make oversight of offshore operations, revenue and royalty collection, and future clean energy development each operate under a separate mission statement. Salazar will establish the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The safety and ocean energy bureaus will be led by a director with oversight from the DOI Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, Wilma Lewis. The revenue office will be further separated from the others by having supervision moved to the DOI Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, Rhea Suh.
See the full DOI press release here.
NEPA Procedures Under Review at MMS (5/10)
Following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced that they will review the procedures outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) on outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas exploration. The announcement of the review comes after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar faced criticism over whether the NEPA guidelines were followed by the MMS prior to the April 20 incident. In addition to the review, the Obama Administration proposed changing the 30 day review period to 90 days, to allow the MMS more time to conduct environmental impact studies on OCS exploration plans. See the full press release from DOI.
EPA and NASA Renew Agreement on Environmental and Earth Science (4/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency and NASA renewed their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to foster cooperation in environmental and Earth sciences and applications between the agencies. An EPA press release concluded, “The MOA signed today promotes renewed efforts of collaboration between EPA and NASA to improve environmental and Earth science research, technology, environmental management, and the application of Earth science data, models and technology in environmental decision-making. Areas of applied research and applications expected to benefit from this partnership include climate change, air quality, and water. The re-invigorated partnership focuses on science leadership to motivate continued exploration, innovation and protection of our home planet.”
Visit EPA’s Earth Observations and Advanced Monitoring Initiative and NASA’s Earth activities web pages for more information.
NSF and NIH Partner in Commerce Department Innovation Award Competition (4/10)
The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is partnering with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the i6 Challenge. This competition will award up to $1 million to each of six teams across the country with the most innovative ideas to meet the Obama Administration’s goals of driving technology commercialization and developing strong public-private partnerships. In addition, up to $6 million will be awarded in NSF or NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants associated with the winning teams.
Entrepreneurs, investors, universities, foundations, and non-profits are encouraged to participate in the i6 Challenge. The deadline for applications is July 15, 2010. For more details join the informational conference call on May 17, 2010. To learn more go to www.eda.gov/i6.
MMS Rewrites Gas Flaring and Production Rates from Offshore Wells (4/10)
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) published a final rule that limits natural gas flaring and production rates from offshore gas wells. The goal of the rule is for MMS to better monitor the amount of gas flaring or venting that occurs in offshore oil and gas production to ultimately reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted.
Venting is the release of natural gas into the atmosphere and flaring is when the gas releases are ignited. These processes are most often used as a safety precaution to briefly divert the flow of gas during an equipment failure. This rule will continue to allow flaring for safety reasons, but will require accurate measurement of total gas emitted to monitor volume of GHGs released.
AAPG Partners With NSF on Geoscience Research (3/10)
In a first ever partnership with industry, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a joint agreement with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) to increase funding for basic research in the geosciences over the next five years. NSF and AAPG hope to work together on bettering hazard mitigation, understanding natural resources, increasing knowledge of paleoclimate and current climate issues, restoring ecosystems, addressing workforce and education issues, and other critical geosciences challenges facing the nation. The agreement will go into effect starting July 1, 2010.
FWS Gearing Policies Towards Climate Change Adaption (1/10)
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new director, Sam Hamilton, is keeping busy trying to adapt policies to cope with the ramifications of climate change. Historically, adaption questions are addressed at the regional level, but climate change is making FWS realign its policies, priorities, and areas of investment to address this from a higher-level.
The policies being reevaluated may spur major changes for how FWS approaches conservation. Currently the FWS is developing a $25 million program which would develop “landscape conservation cooperatives” that would be used to regionally study and assess ecological responses to climate change that can provide insight as to what direction FWS policy should move in. The goal for the FWS is to use global climate models to influence and develop better regional climate models. Ultimately, Hamilton, who is a 30 year veteran of the FWS, would like to see FWS use more science when deciding how to spend their money.
Interior Launches Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms (1/10)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced reforms to oil and gas leasing sales on public lands. Key changes include interdisciplinary reviews that consider site-specific concerns, greater public involvement in the Master Leasing and Development plans and BLM will take a lead role in determining areas where leasing can occur.
The full press release is available from DOI.
Chu Defends IPCC Findings and Blue Ribbon Task Force (1/10)
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the research and development priorities to meet the challenges associated with climate change, Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In response to accusations of fraud and unreliability of climate change evidence brought about by the “Climategate” emails that erupted last year after a U.K. Climatic Research Center was hacked into, Chu indicated that the Department of Energy (DOE) would continue to rely on IPCC findings.
The hearing also focused on nuclear energy development at DOE. Republican senators expressed impatience with Chu’s focus on “exotic technologies” instead of spending money on proven technologies like nuclear. In particular, senators questioned why Chu was taking so much time to appoint people to his blue-ribbon commission tasked with tackling the nuclear waste issue. Chu assured the committee that he was working hard on the commission and that the Obama Administration was dedicated to expanding nuclear energy. Within a week of the hearing, Chu announced the task force members (see President’s Nuclear Waste Task Force Announced (1/10)).
CIA Will Share Satellite Data with Select Scientists (1/10)
An old environmental surveillance program has been reopened for the benefit of science. The Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis (Medea) program at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been reopened after unexpectedly being shut down by President George W. Bush in 2001 after nine years of operation. Medea gives 60 of the nation’s top scientists access to classified reconnaissance satellite data and other spy sensors. The scientists, mainly from academia with a few representatives from industry and federal agencies, conduct scientific research under the guidance of the National Academy of Sciences.
CIA Director Leon Paneta strongly supports the program, believing the national security implications of desertification, sea level rise, and population shifts justify this collaboration. However the program has come under scrutiny in Congress, particularly by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) who thinks the CIA should spend more time fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”
The Medea program has little to no impact on regular intelligence gathering and is more or less free. What is does is release information already collected or utilizes already deployed sensors to gather environmental data while passing over wilderness areas. The images that have been declassified are released at a lower resolution to mask the true abilities of CIA satellites. So far the data scientists have received has allowed them to analyze Arctic sea ice to help with summer melt records. In addition to sea ice data, scientists hope to gather information on clouds, glaciers, deserts, and tropical forests.
Murkowski Formalizes Disapproval of EPA Ruling (1/10)
On January 21, 2010 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a disapproval resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being able to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EPA independently ruled last December that GHGs are a danger to human health and therefore EPA could regulate them under the Clean Air Act. Murkowski and many others feel the EPA is wrong in circumventing Congress to make this decision, and that the Clean Air Act is ill suited to properly handle a regulation of this kind. Murkowski hoped to vote on her resolution in February, but a March vote is more likely given scheduling difficulties.
The resolution has 36 Republican co-sponsors and endorsement from 3 Democrats. An additional two Democrats—Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Jim Webb (VA)—and two Republicans—Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins—are considering co-sponsorship.
Once a disapproval resolution is placed on the Senate calendar, it is then subject to expedited consideration on the Senate floor, and not subject to filibuster. It only takes 51 votes to pass a disapproval resolution as opposed to the 60 needed in Murkowski’s original plan of introducing an amendment.
Read the full press release from Murkowski here.
EPA Sends GHG Endangerment Findings to White House (11/09)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent its greenhouse gas (GHG) endangerment findings to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in early November. The proposed findings state that greenhouse gases are pollutants that threaten public health and therefore should be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has already proposed follow-up GHG regulations, however, any regulations depend on approval of the endangerment finding first.
The OMB has 90 days to review the findings, however many expect a ruling ahead of the United Nations Copenhagen climate change treaty conference which starts on December 7, 2009.
Army Corps Liable for Worst Flooding During Katrina (11/09)
A U.S. district court judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was liable for some of the worst flooding after Hurricane Katrina, marking the first ruling to hold the USACE liable for damage from a natural disaster. The judge found the USACE did not properly maintain a shipping channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), which in 1988 had been deemed a threat to human life. The MRGO is called a “hurricane highway” that focused floodwater into eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.
The ruling gives six individuals and one business a total of $720,000 in compensation and more claims are likely. As it is, 490,000 claims, amounting to about $500 billion in damages, have been filed against the government already. The actual government liability will remain in limbo for some time though as the USACE appeals the ruling and the whole process remains tied up in the courts.
There appears to be no real winners in this situation. Members of Congress do hope this ruling will lead to better planning, design and maintenance of projects by the USACE.
Read the NY Times story about the ruling online.
Nominations: Directors Named for NIST and Surface Mining (11/09)
Patrick Gallagher was named Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce in November. NIST’s mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology. In addition, NIST is the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Gallagher has served as deputy director of the agency since 2008. He has a PhD in physics from the University of Pittsburgh.
Joseph Pizarchik was named Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) in the Department of the Interior after months of delay due to an anonymous hold and opposition from environmentalists. Pizarchik was previously the director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mining and Reclamation where opponents say he supported environmentally harmful coal waste disposal practices such as dumping coal-ash in abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended Pizarchik, suggesting that Pizarchik would be essential to balancing between domestic coal production and environmental sustainability. Pizarchik explained his actions by saying he used high-quality data to ensure the waste sites would not contaminate groundwater resources. The OSM has oversight of coal and hardrock mining and is currently reviewing the effectiveness of a Bush Administration rule aimed at protecting waterways from mountaintop mining removal practices.
New DOE Plan for Clean Energy Loans (10/09)
Steven Chu announced the Department of Energy’s (DOE) plan to administer up to $750 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to be used towards accelerating the development of renewable energy projects. The funding is intended to cover loan guarantee costs, which could assist in lending between $4 billion and $8 billion to appropriate projects.
To help with this, DOE has created a new loan guarantee program called Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP). According to DOE, the goal of FIPP is to “leverage the human and financial capital of private sector financial institutions by accelerating the loan application process while balancing risk between DOE and private sector partners participating in the program.”
BLM Work with Advocacy Groups Potentially Illegal (10/09)
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees have been accused of being “less than objective” when working with environmental groups over the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). After a complaint was filed that NLCS directors interacted with advocacy groups in inappropriate ways, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General (IG) investigated the relationship between the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the federal employees. The report states that the communications between the NGOs and NLCS “created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law.” This has Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) demanding reform and review of employee conduct.
The BLM employees have been accused of making and editing brochures and fact sheets for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that were later used for lobbying materials. NLCS Director Elena Daly replied that BLM officials were only helping to double-check facts to ensure that the public got accurate information. Another top official said they were unaware that the brochures would be used to lobby for congressional support.
Upon receiving the findings from the IG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said BLM will not be prosecuted because “the law covering ‘lobbying with appropriated monies’ has no criminal sanctions.” BLM has 90 days to give a written response detailing its future actions due to these findings.
To download a PDF of the full IG report, go to: http://www.eenews.net/public/25/12636/features/documents/2009/10/05/document_gw_01.pdf
NSF Launches Dead Zone Interactive Site (10/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new interactive “Dead Zone” website to help answer questions that the public might have about these increasingly prevalent zones of oxygen starved water in the oceans; areas that are virtually devoid of life. This multimedia package features videos, photographs, a narrated slideshow, illustrations, easy-to-understand texts, and downloadable documents.
There are currently over 400 dead zones on the Earth. Dead zones are normally thought of as being the aftermath of pollution, but recently many are thought to be caused by changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that may be a result of climate change.
To visit this new interactive site, go to: http://nsf.gov/news/special_reports/deadzones/
NSF Releases New Vision For the Geosciences (10/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Advisory Committee for Geosciences (AC-GEO) released GEO Vision: Unraveling Earth’s Complexities through the Geosciences, a new long-term strategy document for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO). AC-GEO found the top challenges for the geosciences in the future to be: understanding and forecasting Earth system behavior, reducing vulnerability and sustaining life, and growing the geoscience workforce. The report shows that geoscientists are well-suited to bring the insight needed to address the pressing issues facing the Earth.
AC-GEO believes the NSF is the only research agency in the U.S. with the breadth and capability to understand the broad challenges in Earth systems to protect resources, environment, energy supplies, human health and the economy. The recommendations for GEO involve maintaining fundamental and interdisciplinary geoscience research, conducting groundbreaking research, communicating the science to the public and policymakers, engaging K-12 students, and coordinating within NSF and with other agencies. The report highlights several key research areas for GEO, including natural hazards, ocean acidification, gas hydrates, EarthScope, the Ocean Observatories Initiative, atmospheric observations, and Earth science literacy.
This vision document reflects four years of work by AC-GEO, and replaces the 1999 document NSF Geosciences Beyond 2000. The updated GEO Vision incorporates new science, new technology, and new opportunities for GEO.
Measure Proposes a New Oil and Gas Leasing Agency (10/09)
The Minerals Management Service Reform Act (H.R. 3736) has been introduced by Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) to remove the Minerals Management Service (MMS) from the Department of the Interior (DOI) and make it an independent agency. MMS, which oversees oil and gas royalty payments, would become an independent federal agency with a director appointed by the President. Issa argues that this will allow for more effective oversight by Congress.
House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) disagrees and introduced a bill of his own (H.R. 3534) that would consolidate the energy programs of both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and MMS into one office at DOI in charge of onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing. Rahall says this bill will also give more authority to DOI’s inspector general.
Secretary Ken Salazar agrees that an office is needed within DOI to collaborate between BLM and MMS, but it is yet to be seen how to best set up and carry this out.
Nominations: USGS and ARPA-E Directors Confirmed (10/09)
On October 21, 2009 the Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for the directors of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Marcia McNutt is confirmed as the first female director of the USGS. McNutt was previously the CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California. She received her B.A. in physics from Colorado College and her PhD in Earth Sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She has taught at MIT, Stanford University, and University of California, Santa Cruz. She also has previous work experience with the USGS having started at the USGS as part of the earthquake studies team soon after graduate school. McNutt starts on November 5, 2009.
One of McNutt’s top priorities is to survey the underwater resources off the U.S. coast. Though her background and focus has been primarily in marine geophysics, she promised she would not forget the land. A full write-up of her confirmation hearing can be found here.
Arun Majumdar is confirmed as the first director of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. ARPA-E was started in 2007 to fund high-risk, high-reward research that can develop clean energy technology. Majumdar has been the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a professor of engineering and materials science at University of California, Berkeley. His research focus has been energy efficiency technology and nanotechnology applications to limiting heat loss in electricity production.
NPS and CEQ Nominees Confirmed (9/09)
Two additional members of the Obama Administration were confirmed this month. Gary Guzy is the new Deputy Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and Jonathan Jarvis is the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS).
Guzy will be working under CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley on coordinating federal environmental efforts among agencies and overseeing the National Environmental Policy Act. Guzy worked as an EPA counsel during the Clinton Administration on making greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles subject to the Clean Air Act.
Jarvis is a biologist with 30 years of experience with the NPS. He is the first director with a biology background, which he has used to promote good science and address climate change in his career. Jarvis was previously the Pacific West regional director responsible for overseeing 56 national parks. He recently admonished the Bureau of Land Management proposal for dozens of solar plants in Nevada due to NPS concerns over the water supplies.
His confirmation was initially opposed by Senate Republicans who worried that the Department of the Interior was too vested in interest groups and Jarvis’ stance on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park is too strict. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has since mollified the issues.
DOI Releases New Strategic Plan Framework for Comment (9/09)
The Department of the Interior (DOI) would like comments on a proposed framework and performance measures for its new strategic plan. The framework outlines updates the 2006 plan to reflect the priorities of new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the new administration. Salazar hopes DOI can focus on achieving greater energy independence, promoting development of alternative energy sources; protecting treasured landscapes; addressing global climate change; meeting our commitments to Native Americans and Alaska Natives; addressing water issues; creating opportunities for youth outdoors; and insuring the integrity of science in DOI decision making.
Federal agencies are required to update their strategic plan every three years and the DOI is soliciting comments on the proposed framework for the fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2015 plan. The deadline for comments is November 10, 2009.
The documents and instructions for submitting comments can be found here.
Nominations Update for State, DOI, DOE, and EPA (8/09)
The Obama administration continues to fill-in with 6 more science and environment nominees confirmed in early August. Positions within the State Department, Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were filled.
Kerri-Ann Jones was confirmed as the assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs with the State Department. Jones has been the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation as well as serving in the White House Office of Science and Technology during the Clinton administration.
Robert Abbey was confirmed as director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within DOI. Abbey has eight years prior experience as the BLM Director for Nevada and is leaving his current post as a Western land and resource strategies consultant to return to BLM.
Wilma Lewis is the new DOI assistant secretary in charge of land and mineral management. Lewis will oversee the BLM, Minerals Management Service, and Office of Surface Mining. She has previously been serving as the DOI inspector general.
James Markowsky is the DOE assistant secretary for fossil energy. He is a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on America’s Energy Future, lending his expertise gained as an executive at American Electric Power Company, Inc.
Warren “Pete” Miller is the DOE assistant secretary for nuclear energy and director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. He is a research and administrative retiree from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Colin Scott Fulton is the EPA assistant administrator after serving as acting deputy administrator for almost a year. He has worked for the EPA since 1990 and prior to that served as an environmental prosecutor at the Justice Department.
DOE Grants to Train Geologists (8/09)
The Energy Department awarded $8.5 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to seven projects to train geologists, engineers and other specialists in carbon capture and storage. The seven recipients include Seattle-based Environmental Outreach and Stewardship Alliance; the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; the Tulsa, OK based Petroleum Technology Transfer Council; the Norcross, GA based Southern States Energy Board; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Wyoming, Laramie; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The program will cover training, technology transfer and public outreach for 36 months and will be managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. As of August 21, 2009, DOE had made available $9.68 billion in stimulus funds and paid out $466.03 million. See Recovery.gov site for further details.
Energy Department Requests Ideas for New Programs (8/09)
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a formal Request for Information (RFI) for future funding opportunities. The RFI requests public input on potential ARPA-E programmatic areas and opportunities to overcome technological roadblocks to the development of transformational technologies relevant to the ARPA-E mission. The information collected through this process will assist ARPA-E in developing new programs and funding opportunities.
With this RFI, ARPA-E is now reaching out to the public for input on specific programmatic energy technology areas that may be well-suited to provide transformational impacts on ARPA-E’s mission areas of reducing foreign energy imports; decreasing energy related emissions, including those of greenhouse gases; increasing energy efficiency across the U.S. economy, and ensuring that the U.S. maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.
Responses to the RFI are due to ARPA-E by September 25, 2009.
DOI Fast Tracks Renewables on Public Land (8/09)
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is trying to quickly expand renewable energy development on federal lands by designating more than 670,000 acres for Solar Energy Study Areas. These study areas are located in six western states and will be evaluated for environmental impacts and resource suitability for utility-scale solar energy development. The study areas will be segregated from other mineral resource development to allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to complete the environmental reviews and establish acceptable development zones by the end of 2010. DOI hopes to have 13 commercial-scale solar plants under construction by the end of next year. DOI is also setting up new solar energy permitting offices to facilitate permitting for companies that have already applied for solar projects inside and outside of the study areas.
Large-scale solar energy projects may not move as quickly as DOI hopes, as concerns over the impacts arise. Environmental and conservation groups are worried that the large projects and the long transmission lines needed to connect the power plants to the urban areas will destroy endangered species’ habitats. Industry is also concerned about developing in the rain parched west, where getting water rights to cool their systems may be difficult. DOI does not have similar study zones planned for wind or geothermal.
USGS Grants for Mineral Research (8/09)
In order to better understand and assess U.S. nonfuel mineral resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is awarding up to $250,000 in grants to fund mineral resource research through its Mineral Resources External Research Program. The program will award grants to universities, state agencies, tribal governments or organizations, and industry or other private sector organizations for the fiscal year 2010. Research must include data collection, compilation, and interpretation. Topics must address one of the program’s long-term goals. The program has outlined specific needs for proposals, including assessments of existing and potential mineral deposits, advanced modeling of mineral deposits, or environmental impacts of mineral deposits containing specific minerals or compounds. The research projects will help the USGS prepare for a new national mineral assessment that will begin in 2012. Interested researchers should apply from August 17 to September 29 through Grants.gov.
For more information, visit the Mineral Resource External Research Program site.
USGS Grants for Volcano Monitoring (8/09)
The U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) announced American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding for volcano monitoring grants. Grants are available for repair, replacement, or modernization of volcano monitoring and reporting capabilities. This includes equipment, field observations, sampling, geologic mapping, GIS-based hazard assessments, computer-based research, data archiving, and creation or preservation of jobs. Applications are due September 14, 2009 at 4pm EDT. All applications must be submitted through grants.gov, where the full announcement is also available.
NSF Gives Stimulus Funds to EarthScope and MARGINS (8/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) divisions of Earth Science and Ocean Sciences each received $5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding for the EarthScope and MARGINS facilities. 31 scientists and NSF officials met in early July to develop recommendations for facility enhancement.
The report and several of the presentations made at the meeting are now available on the MARGINS site: http://www.nsf-margins.org/Cascadia/09meeting
USGS Hosts Public Lectures at Headquarters (8/09)
As part of a the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monthly Public Lecture Series this summer, expert Dr. Tom Armstrong gave a informative lecture about the science behind Climate Change on August 5, 2009. On September 2 at the USGS headquarters Dr. Bruce Molnia spoke about the relationship between Alaska’s glaciers, climate, and sea level in a lecture called “Baked Alaska.” He showed his research of changes to these glaciers over time through a photographic record, emphasizing changes at the yearly, decadal and century timescales. The next lecture, “Out of Africa-Dust in the Wind,” will be on October 7, 2009 at USGS headquarters in Reston, VA.
Panama Canal Expansion Provides Insight for Geologists (7/09)
Teams of scientists gathered for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Panama Geology Project are taking advantage of the Panamanian government’s economic decision to expand the Panama Canal. The massive five-year project to widen the canal to accommodate the larger, modern cargo ships has provided a rare opportunity to view the geology of the isthmus without the usual thick vegetation cover. The engineering project is moving along at a feverish pace, and scientists are racing to capitalize on this new field opportunity before the construction is complete. Geoscientists are hoping to use the newly exposed rock structures to understand the timing of formation, complex tectonics, and resource deposits in this unique region.
More about the Smithsonian Research Institute is available here: http://www.stri.org/
NSF Makes Changes to Proposals and Divisions (7/09)
Proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) must be submitted using the NSF FastLane system at www.fastlane.nsf.gov. Please visit the web site for more information.
Proposals to support a post-doctoral researcher must include a separate mentoring plan in a supplemental section. Any proposal that does not include this section will be returned without review. Please review the instructions about this small change.
NSF provides information about funding opportunities at Grants.gov and proposers are encouraged to check this site often for updates and information.
The Atmospheric Science division (ATM) within the Geosciences Directorate will become the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) as of October 1, 2009. Look for AGS rather than ATM after that date, and please consider the additional range of science included in the new division name.
Some upcoming NSF grant proposals that are outside of the Geosciences Directorate, but may be of interest to geoscientists include: Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Organization of Projects on Environmental Research in the Arctic (OPERA) and Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE).
Nominations Update for NASA, DOI, DOE and State (7/09)
The Senate confirmed Charles Bolden as the new director of NASA. He has flown on four space missions as an astronaut for NASA since 1980. He holds a bachelor’s in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s in system management from the University of Southern California. His goals for NASA are to build the investment in the International Space Station, develop the new launch systems, enhance the technological leadership in understanding the Earth environment and inspire the next generation of kids.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the nominations of two Department of the Interior (DOI) officials, but they still await full confirmation. The nominations of Bob Abbey to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Wilma Lewis to be the assistant secretary for land and mineral management were initially held up by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) over a disagreement with the Obama Administration on a copper mine. However, he has since dropped his hold on the candidates.
The committee is also planning to vote on the nominees for two senior Department of Energy positions early in August. Warren “Pete” Miller is nominated to be the assistant secretary for nuclear energy, and would also be responsible for the radioactive waste office. Miller is a professor at Texas A&M and a retired Los Alamos Laboratory employee. James Markowsky is nominated to be the assistant secretary for fossil energy, which includes overseeing the carbon capture and storage initiatives. He is active on the National Research Council and chairs a National Academy of Engineering committee on energy and electrical power systems. He holds degrees in mechanical engineering and industrial management.
Kerri-Ann Jones has been nominated as the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Jones, a molecular scientist with her PhD from Yale University and prior experience working for the Clinton Administration, could be key in upcoming negotiations on climate change, polar affairs, and ratification of the Law of the Sea. Most recently Jones was the director of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation.
Obama Nominates Director for USGS (7/09)
On July 9, 2009 President Obama announced his nomination of Marcia McNutt as the next director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). McNutt would replace acting director Suzette Kimball and become the first female director of the USGS. In addition to managing the agency that employs 8,800 people, McNutt would be the Science Advisor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who applauded Obama’s nomination. Salazar described McNutt as a “world-class scientist” with valuable experience as chief scientist on many oceanographic expeditions and as chair of the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration convened by President Clinton.
After receiving her Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla in 1978, McNutt worked on earthquake prediction at the USGS in Menlo Park, California. After 3 years, she moved east and served on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty as the Griswold Professor of Geophysics and became Director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution. In 1997, she became president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and has been a geophysics professor at Stanford since 1998. She is a past-president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and is a fellow of AGU, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Association of Geodesy. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Smithsonian Secretary Outlines Priorities For Institution (7/09)
Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough has listed his top three priorities as science, education, and national identity. Every few decades the Smithsonian Institution reviews how to best interpret its broad mission statement, which only requires “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” How the Smithsonian Institutions will achieve its mission is up to the Secretary.
Secretary Clough wants to emphasize the scientific research done at the Smithsonian, focusing on global warming and biodiversity in the upcoming years. Two big undertakings right now are the Encyclopedia of Life, which will create a webpage for each of the 1.8 million species known today, and the Giant Magellan Telescope to look at the origins of the universe. In connection with its research, Clough wants to expand the Smithsonian’s educational component beyond museum exhibits. He wants to supplement formal education with informal learning experiences, like curator webcasts broadcast to students across the U.S. and the world. The next webcast will cover global warming.
Lastly, Clough wants to work to preserve objects and traditions that have become part of our national identity. In the upcoming years, the U.S. will no longer have one racial or ethnic majority. The Smithsonian aims to capture what defines “Americans” in order to preserve our culture and identity.
The Smithsonian will become increasingly accessible, hopefully digitizing the 137 million objects it currently owns. Clough also hopes to continue connecting with the younger generation, and is looking into ways to attract and influence young and old people alike. In this face-paced, highly technical age, the Smithsonian wants to act as the “honest broker” of information and encourage dialogue in order to make a greater and more profound impact in the future.
For more about Secretary Clough, visit the Smithsonian website: http://www.si.edu/about/newSecretary/default.htm
Update on Nominations for DOI and DOE (6/09)
On June 19, 2009 the Senate approved three nominees, without much delay or controversy, for top positions within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and Energy, Efficiency, and Renewable Energy (EERE). Anne Castle, a prominent water rights and natural resources lawyer from Colorado, will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as the DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. William Brinkman, a physicist from Princeton, will be the Director of the Office of Science at DOE. Catherine Zoi, a former chief of staff for the Clinton White House Office on Environmental Policy and manager at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will be the Assistant Secretary for EERE at DOE. Her nomination was the only one to draw any concern, with some Republicans worried about Zoi’s allegation that the coal and oil lobbies were preventing clean energy from thriving. After expressing her hopes to work with those industries though, her nomination was forwarded without objection.
A new nomination was also announced. President Obama nominated Bob Abbey as the BLM Director within DOI. Abbey has been praised by environmentalists and industry leaders for his 32-year career at the BLM. He has been touted for his management of the Nevada mining industry, and the anticipated diplomatic manner in which he will handle issues of energy projects on federal lands. Abbey is now waiting on his confirmation hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Hayes Nomination Approved, Utah Lease Report Released (6/09)
David Hayes was finally confirmed to be the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, more than two months after Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) placed holds on the process. Their concern was not over Hayes himself, but unsatisfactory answers they received from the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about last year’s oil and gas lease auction. Hayes was confirmed on May 20, 2009 when the senators lifted their holds after Salazar promised to personally review the issue. Bennett and Murkowski wanted a commitment that the Administration was pursuing a balanced energy approach.
Salazar has evaluated the lease auction of concern, under the leadership of Hayes, and released a report on June 11, 2009. The report outlines the flaws in the procedure and inaccurate information that caused Salazar to cancel 77 leases in Utah this February, which in turn started the outcry from Senator Bennett. The report concludes that some of the leases could be reinstated, while others should not be leased for various environmental and legal reasons.
The full report on the 77 Utah leases is available from DOI: http://www.doi.gov/utahreport/
NSF Promotes Science with Cool Public Outreach Tools (5/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is making efforts to bring science to a broader audience through the creative use of burgeoning public outreach tools such as social networking sites, internet blogs, podcasts, and web-based utilities.
One example of what NSF has done can be seen at www.science360.gov, a collection of cool science stories and other information formatted like an iTunes music selection page. Besides this web series, NSF is producing a number of short podcasts highlighting new discoveries and short videos describing different science careers. NSF is also helping to facilitate media interviews and media videos of research. In the near future, NSF hopes to start a 24 hour radio channel, which they hope to air on the satellite radio provider Sirius. NSF is also partnering with NASCAR on a “Science of Speed” series, NBC at the Winter Olympics, US News for their science coverage, and Hollywood to provide scientific consulting in movies.
For more information on NSF’s media programming and partnerships, visit their website at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsmedia/sciencefrontiers/
If anyone has suggestions for future programming, contact Jeff Nesbit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NSF Using The Media To Promote The Sciences (5/09)
The May 19, 2009 meeting of the Coalition for National Science Funding consisted of an overview of the National Science Foundation (NSF) efforts to bring science to a broader audience through the creative use of various media outlets. Jeff Nesbit, the Director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at NSF, explained how the foundation is capitalizing on the numerous opportunities afforded by social networking sites, internet blogs, podcasts, and web series to disseminate new discoveries to the public.
One example of what NSF has done can be seen at www.science360.gov. After CNN cut their science news programming, NSF hired much of the former CNN staff to produce an exciting science news show. Besides this web series, NSF is producing a number of short podcasts highlighting cutting edge science, short videos describing various science careers, and taking media groups to broadcast live from research sites. At this point they have sufficient material for a 24 hour radio channel, which they hope to air on the satellite radio provider Sirius. NSF is also partnering with NASCAR on a “Science of Speed” series, NBC at the Winter Olympics, US News for their science coverage, and Hollywood to provide scientific consulting in movies.
Outreach like this is especially critical as large news organizations are cutting their science coverage. It is a great way to raise awareness and generate excitement for the sciences. For more information on NSF’s media programming and partnerships, visit their website at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsmedia/sciencefrontiers/. If anyone has suggestions for future programming, contact Jeff Nesbit (email@example.com).
More Federal Agency Nominations (4/09)
**Department of Agriculture
President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have nominated Rajiv Shah to fill the position of under secretary of Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 2001, Shah has served as the director for the Agricultural Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has extensive experience in developing programs and initiatives to combat poverty and hunger worldwide. He received his M.D. and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
**Department of Energy
On April 17, 2009 President Obama nominated William F. Brinkman to lead the Department of Energy Office of Science. Brinkman has most recently been working as a senior research physicist at Princeton and has a wealth of experience in the private and public sectors, including vice president of research at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. Brinkman earned his Bachelors degree and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Missouri.
Kristina Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the undersecretary for the Department of Energy (DOE). If confirmed, Johnson would lead DOE initiatives to promote energy efficiency and renewable energies. She would oversee the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, which includes oversight of efforts to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration. Before working at Johns Hopkins, Johnson was the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University from 1999 to 2007. She also served on the engineering faculty at the University of Colorado-Boulder from 1985 to 1999. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford.
President Obama has nominated Ines Triay to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Department of Energy Environmental Management Office (EMO). Triay has a wealth of experience with clean-up efforts from Cold War weapons programs. She has been the EMO’s acting assistant secretary since November 2008 and has served as the principal deputy assistant secretary since October 2007. Triay would take over the often beleaguered $5.8 billion clean-up program that has been listed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as “high risk” and vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse. Triay received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Miami (FL).
**Federal Emergency Management Agency
President Obama has nominated Craig Fugate to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fugate has served as head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) since 2001, a position in which he directed statewide relief efforts following eight major hurricanes that battered Florida in 2004 and 2005. Fugate’s entire career has focused on emergency services. He started as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, eventually directing Alachua County (FL) emergency services for a decade before moving to FDEM. Fugate’s nomination will require Senate confirmation.
**Office of Science and Technology Policy
On March 4, 2009 President Obama announced his choice of Sherburne Abbott to serve as the associate director of environment at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Abbott currently directs the Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability at the University of Texas-Austin, and has extensive experience in sustainable development issues, including service as the chief international officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Abbot received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Baltimore’s Goucher College and a master’s degree in environmental science and natural resources policy from Yale.
Department of the Interior Continues To Fill Leadership Positions (4/09)
The number of nominations and appointments from western states continues to grow at the Department of the Interior (DOI) as Secretary Ken Salazar appointed two New Mexicans, Ned Farquahar and Deanna Archuletta, and President Obama nominated yet another Coloradan, Ann Castle, to fill key positions. Other positions that do not require confirmation have been filled with several westerners and many with specific connections to Colorado. Filling out the staff at DOI has moved relatively rapidly and while it is not unusual for staff to come from the Secretary ’s home state and from the west, some senators are asking for consideration of people from other areas of the country.
The number of Coloradans caused Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to quip at a recent confirmation hearing that "We're a little concerned about this Colorado cabal that seems to be settling in", while Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted “…I feel a need to point out that New Hampshire also has mountains, fly fishing, coastal marshes, but I confess no prairie dogs and no oil rigs”. Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with fellow committee member, Shaheen, are responsible for vetting the Interior nominees in confirmation hearings before committee-approved members are brought to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Unfortunately, David Hayes, the nominee for the deputy secretary for Interior may have a long wait as Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) has put a hold on his nomination over the suspension of oil and gas leases in Utah by the Interior Department.
There has been movement on nominations and appointments of DOI’s five major divisions: Lands and Minerals; Water and Science; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Indian Affairs and Policy, Management and Budget. Lands and Minerals has oversight of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) while Water and Science has oversight over the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation.
For Lands and Minerals, President Obama has nominated Wilma Lewis as assistant secretary and Ned Farquhar has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary, a post that does not require Senate confirmation. Lewis, a native of the Virgin Islands has served as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and as the Interior’s inspector general. At Interior from 1993 to 1995, Lewis focused on the underpayment of royalties on federal mineral leases, the recovery of delinquent coal reclamation fees and environmental violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. She has a law degree from Harvard.
Farquhar is an environmental advocate who recently served on President Obama’s transition team for the Department of the Interior and was a former advisor to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Prior to that post, he served as a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Albuquerque, NM. In that position, Farquhar helped develop strategies for the Western Climate Initiative, a program formed by 7 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces to develop and implement a greenhouse gas cap and trade system set to begin 2012. Farquhar is an advocate of renewable energy and has indicated that he would like to limit conventional coal from expanding into new markets. Farquhar has held leadership roles for several environmental advocacy groups and state agencies in Alaska, Vermont, California, and New Mexico, and has also taught courses at the Universities of New Mexico and Vermont. Farquhar earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1980 and master’s degree in Geography from Cambridge University in 1982.
For Water and Science, the nominee for assistant secretary is Coloradan Ann Castle. Castle is a partner at a Denver law firm were she works as a water attorney. Castle has worked on a wide variety of water rights and resources issues in the West, and was identified as one of the best water lawyers in the nation by Best Lawyers in America in 2007 and 2008. Castle earned her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and her law degree from the University of Colorado.
Deanna Archuletta, board chairwoman of the Bernalillo County (NM) Water Utility (BCWU), has been appointed as deputy secretary for Water and Science. As board chairwoman of the BCWU, she was responsible for overseeing one of the nation’s largest water treatment projects. Archuletta also served on the Obama Administration’s DOI transition team. Keeping with the theme of new DOI appointees with strong environmental backgrounds, Archuletta served as the southwest regional director for the Wilderness Society before moving to BCWU. Archuletta received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and communications from the University of Washington in 1997 and her master’s degree in sociology from the University of New Mexico in 2000.
For Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, has been confirmed as assistant secretary while Will Shafroth has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks under Stickland. Shafroth is a fourth-generation Coloradan, who served as the first executive director of the Great Outdoors Colorado in the late nineties.
For Policy, Management and Budget, Rhea Suh, has been nominated to be assistant secretary. She has worked on Western ecosystems at two foundations and also served as a senior legislative assistant to former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).
For the Bureau of Reclamation, Michael Connor, who earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and has been the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's general counsel since 2001, has been nominated to head the agency.
In other key positions that do not require confirmation, Steve Black now serves as Salazar's counselor for energy. Black was formerly Colorado's deputy attorney general for natural resources and the environment before becoming legislative counsel in Salazar's Senate office. Laura Davis, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO), will become chief of staff for the Interior deputy secretary. So as soon as David Hayes gets a vote on the floor and assuming approval, he will have a chief of staff waiting for him.
Clough Named as Secretary of the Smithsonian
Former Georgia Institute of Technology president, G. Wayne Clough, is the new Secretary of the Smithsonian. Clough was the president of Georgia Tech for 14 years, and in that time he has improved enrollment and increased research expenditures, elevating the institution to one of the top ranked public research universities in the U.S. Currently, Clough also serves on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Science Foundation's governing National Science Board. He is also active with the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and the National Academies hurricane protection efforts in New Orleans. Clough earned his bachelor's and master's civil engineering degrees from Georgia Tech and a doctorate in civil engineering from University of California, Berkeley. His extensive work on and knowledge of public policy, higher education, diversity, economic development and technology has more than prepared him to take on his new post as of January 26, 2009. (3/09)
Lisa Jackson Confirmed as the New EPA Administrator
Lisa Jackson was confirmed as Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At her confirmation hearing, she pledged “scientific integrity and the rule of law” at EPA. EPA has been in the news a lot lately because of decisions and rule makings, where the agency has been accused of ignoring the science in favor of special interests. Jackson will need to get to work right away because President Obama ordered an immediate review of the auto emissions waiver that California was denied a few months ago. The waiver would allow California to move forward with stricter auto emission standards and at least twelve other states would follow with similar restrictions. (01/09)
Back to top
There are several key departments and agencies within the federal government that handle legislation that affects the geoscience community. Below is a list of those departments and independent agencies, followed by more detailed information about each department, geoscience programs and offices within the department, and links to the official websites.
Back to top
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture (About)
The primary interests for the geoscience community at the USDA are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the U.S. Forest Service (FS).
The NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) works with conservation districts, watershed groups, and the federal and state agencies having related responsibilities to bring about physical adjustments in land use that will conserve soil and water resources, provide for agricultural production on a sustained basis, and reduce damage by flood and sedimentation. The NRCS, with its dams, debris basins, and planned watersheds, provides technical advice to the agricultural conservation programs, and through these programs, works to minimize pollution. The long-term objectives of the NRCS are to maintain and improve the soil, water, and related resources of the nation's nonpublic lands by reducing excessive soil erosion, improving irrigation efficiencies, improving water management, reducing upstream flood damage, improving range conditions, and improving water quality.
The ARS is the chief scientific agency of the USDA, and has about 1000 research projects in about 100 locations in the United States and five other countries to find solutions to high-priority problems facing the nation's agricultural interests. The scientists work to protect and improve soil, water and other natural resources.
Congress established the Forest Service within the USDA in 1905 to provide quality water and timber for the Nation’s benefit. Over time Congress has expanded the Forest Service’s responsibilities to managing national forests for multiple uses and benefits and for the sustained yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation. Their mandate is to manage resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment. The Forest Service’s Minerals and Geology Management Office has programs in place to facilitate any energy, mineral, or geological activities that take place within national forests. National forests encompass 191 million acres of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas. The Forest Service is also the largest forestry research organization in the world, and provides technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies.
About the Secretary
Secretary Vilsack has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government, beginning as mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, and then as state senator in 1992. In 1998, he was elected Governor of Iowa, an office he held for two terms. As Governor, he created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition. He led trade missions to foreign countries to market agricultural products and attended the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push for expanded agricultural trade negotiations. In addition, he worked to support independent farmers and ranchers by enacting livestock market reform and mandatory price reporting legislation in 1999. He received a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1972 and earned his law degree from Albany Law School in 1975.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Department of Commerce (DOC)
Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce (About)
The primary interests for the geoscience community in the DOC are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
In 1970, NOAA was developed within the DOC by President Nixon to serve a national need "...for better protection of life and property from natural hazards...for a better understanding of the total environment...[and] for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources..." Of particular interest to geoscientists is NOAA research conducted through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), which is the driving force behind NOAA environmental products and services that protect life and property and promote sustainable economic growth.
Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the DOC’s Technology Administration. NIST's mission is to develop and promote measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. NIST carries out its mission in four cooperative programs including the NIST Laboratories, the Baldrige National Quality Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Advanced Technology Program. NIST is also the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).
About the Secretary
Secretary Gary Locke earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University in political science in 1972 and a law degree from Boston University in 1975. He worked for several years as a deputy prosecutor in King County prosecuting felony crimes. In 1982, Locke was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives, where he served on the House Judiciary and Appropriations committees, with his final five years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He was elected Governor of the state of Washington in 1996. Prior to becoming Secretary of Commerce, he was working for a Seattle-based law firm on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Department of Education (ED)
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education (About)
More information to come (including MSP and GAANN).
About the Secretary
Prior to his appointment as Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country. Prior to joining the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan ran the non-profit education foundation Ariel Education Initiative (1992-1998), which helped fund a college education for a class of inner-city children under the I Have A Dream program. He was part of a team that later started a new public elementary school built around a financial literacy curriculum, the Ariel Community Academy, which today ranks among the top elementary schools in Chicago. Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, majoring in sociology.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Department of Energy (DOE)
Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy (About)
The DOE programs of interest to the geosciences fall mainly within the Office of Science, Office of Fossil Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository program within the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.
According to the DOE website, the Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S., providing more than 40 percent of total funding. The Office of Science has a vital tradition of funding fundamental research that focuses on critical national challenges and produces important scientific breakthroughs and contributes to our Nation's well-being.
The priorities of the DOE energy programs are to: increase domestic energy production, revolutionize our approach to energy conservation and efficiency; and promote the development of renewable and alternative energy sources. The Office of Fossil Energy oversees two major fossil fuel efforts: emergency stockpiles of crude oil and heating oil, and research and development of future fossil energy technologies to ensure access to clean, and affordable fuel. With increasing concerns about climate change and finite resources, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is working to provide a prosperous future where energy is clean, abundant, reliable, and affordable.
About the Secretary
Before becoming Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu was the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004. Since becoming the director of Lawrence Berkeley in 2004, Chu focused on developing a research portfolio on alternative energy, particularly cellulosic-based biofuels. He was born in St. Louis in 1948 and completed undergraduate degrees in physics and mathematics at the University of Rochester and his doctorate in Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked at Bell Laboratories and later joined the Stanford University faculty. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for his work on the laser cooling and trapping of atoms at Bell and Stanford.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Department of the Interior (DOI)
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior (About)
The agencies of interest within the DOI are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Managment, Minerals Mangament Service, and the National Park Service.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS website) has evolved over the years, matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology. According to their website, the USGS serves the Nation as an independent fact-finding agency that collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems. The value of the USGS to the Nation rests on its ability to carry out studies on a national scale and to sustain long-term monitoring and assessment of natural resources. Because it has no regulatory or management mandate, the USGS provides impartial science that serves the needs of our changing world. The diversity of scientific expertise enables the USGS to carry out large-scale, multi-disciplinary investigations that build the base of knowledge about the Earth. In turn, decision makers at all levels of government--and citizens in all walks of life--have the information tools they need to address pressing societal issues.
The USGS is the only science agency within the Department of the Interior, it is the primary civilian mapping agency, it is the primary natural hazards monitoring agency for the U.S. and much of the world, it is the primary surface water and ground water monitoring agency with more than 7,000 streamgages throughout the country, it monitors the Earth’s magnetic field in real time, it is involved in lunar and planetary mapping and with the inclusion of the Biological Survey in 1996, the survey now provides the primary data on the nation’s biological resources.
About the Director
Marcia McNutt is a leading geophysicist who most recently concluded a nearly twelve year tenure as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) before becoming the first female director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). She earned her doctorate in Earth Science from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and bachelor degree in physics from Colorado College, Suma Cum Laude. McNutt began working on earthquake prediction at the USGS in Menlo Park, California, as one of her first positions after graduate school before joining the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982. She has also taught at Stanford University and University of California, Santa Cruz. Additionally, she has served as the Chair of the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration under President Clinton and as President of the American Geophysical Union from 2000-2002. McNutt is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM website) is responsible for managing 262 million acres of land (about one-eighth of the land in the United States) and about 300 million additional acres of subsurface mineral resources. The BLM is also responsible, entirely or in part, for wildfire management and suppression, and revegetation, protective fencing, and water development to conserve, enhance, or develop public land resources. The BLM manages a wide variety of resources including: energy and minerals, timber, forage, wild horse and burro populations, fish and wildlife habitat, wilderness areas, and archaeological, paleontological, and historical sites. The BLM also has an active program of soil and watershed management on 175 million acres in the lower 48 States and 86 million acres in Alaska. The BLM receives it mandate to manage the public lands for multiple use while protecting the long-term health of the land from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (Public Law 94-579).
About the Director
Robert Abbey has had a 32 year career in resource management, mostly in federal and state agencies. Abbey began his career with the Mississippi State Park system after graduating of the University of Southern Mississippi. He joined the BLM in 1980, holding various positions in Wyoming, Arizona, Washington D.C., Mississippi, Colorado, and Nevada. This included eight years as the Nevada State Director for the BLM where he oversaw a $1.5 billion resource management and environmental project as Chair of the Executive Committee for the implementation of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Since retiring from the BLM in 2005, Abbey has been a western lands and resources consulting partner with Abbey, Stubbs, and Ford, LLC, in addition to serving on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations.
Minerals Management Services (MMS)
The Minerals Management Service (MMS website) is the federal agency that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The agency collects, accounts for and disburses more than $5 billion per year in revenues from federal offshore mineral leases and from onshore mineral leases on federal and Indian lands. There are two major programs within MMS, Offshore Minerals Management and Minerals Revenue Management. MMS is also responsible for the environmental quality of the areas it manages and conducts a small program of research, primarily related to environmental quality through its Environmental Studies Program. MMS does conduct some research and development related to offshore exploration, production and distribution of energy and mineral resources. MMS receives its mandate and some of its defining regulations from three laws: the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (Public Law 89-665), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, Public Law 91-190), and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act Amendments of 1978 (OCSLAA, Public Law 95-375). The MMS has no organic act as of the beginning of 2009.
About the Director
Elizabeth Birnbaum joins the Mineral Management Service (MMS) after a distinguished career as legal counsel in numerous natural resource related capacities. Birnbaum served as the Editor in Chief for the eighth volume of the Harvard Environmental Law Review before earning her J.D. in 1984. From 1987 to 1991, Birnbaum served as counsel for the Water Resources Program at the National Wildlife Federation followed by counsel to the House Committee on Natural Resources. From 1999-2000, she served as Special Assistant to the Interior Solicitor, overseeing legal policy on issues such as public land management, hydropower licensing, and mining law. She then moved into the role of Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources, where she managed a legal team charged with litigation and regulation for the Bureau of Land Management, MMS, and Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation. She most recently served as Vice President for Government Affairs and General Counsel for American Rivers and then Staff Director for the Committee on House Administration prior to becoming the MMS director.
National Park Service
Established in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS website) has stewardship responsibilities for the protection and preservation of the national park system. According to their website, the system, consisting of 388 separate and distinct units, is recognized globally as a leader in park management and resource preservation. The national park system represents much of the finest the Nation has to offer in terms of scenery, historical and archeological relics, and cultural heritage. Through its varied sites, the National Park Service attempts to explain America's history, interpret its culture, preserve examples of its natural ecosystems, and provide recreational and educational opportunities for U.S. citizens and visitors from all over the world. Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first national park, was created in 1872 through the National Yellowstone Park Act. It was not until August, 1916 that the Congress created the parks service through the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. The General Authorities Act of 1970 and the Redwoods Act as amended in 1978 united the parks into a National Parks System and reaffirmed the mandates of the organic act throughout the entire system.
About the Director
Jonathan Jarvis’s career with the NPS spans over 33 years and numerous roles. Most recently Jarvis had served as the regional director for the Pacific West Region, overseeing nearly 60 National Park System units. After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a B.S. in Biology in 1975, Jarvis served as a park ranger in numerous parks throughout the next decade. He later served as both Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources and Chief Biologist at North Cascades National Park. Through the 1990’s and up to his appointment as Regional Director, he served as Superintendent of Craters of the Moon National Monument, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Mt. Rainier National Park. Between 1997 and 1998, Jarvis served as President of the George Wright Society, a professional organization promoting science on and management of protected lands. Jarvis will be the first NPS Director with a biology background.
About the Secretary
Before becoming Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar represented the state of Colorado in the Senate for 4 years. He is a fifth generation Coloradan, who grew up on a ranch, farmed for 30 years, operated several small businesses, practiced water and environmental law, and served as the Attorney General for Colorado and as a member of the Governor’s cabinet. He received a political science degree from Colorado College in 1977, and graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981. He also received honorary doctorates of law from Colorado College in 1993 and the University of Denver in 1999.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Lisa Jackson, Administrator (About)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by President Richard Nixon’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970, an executive order that consolidated the responsibilities of development and enforcement of environmental standards, environmental monitoring, and scientific research to better protect human health and improve the quality of the nation’s air, water, and landscape into one agency. The EPA officially became operational on December 2, 1970, a year in which environmental awareness reached new levels with the first-ever Earth Day and the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However the EPA lacks an Organic Act by Congress establishing it as a standing federal agency with clearly codified functions and responsibilities. The EPA’s numerous responsibilities are designated by 25 laws and executive orders, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Energy Policy Act. EPA water quality activities involve promoting state of the art research in water monitoring, clean-up, and purification technologies, development and enforcement of water quality standards, maintaining water quality information and records, and public education regarding protection of watersheds. The Superfund program, established in 1980, is a multi-faceted process with the goal of mitigating the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. The EPA is also heavily involved with climate science and initiatives towards efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote more energy efficient technologies in the marketplace. The EPA is also responsible for publishing the official inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
About the Administrator
Before becoming EPA’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson served as Chief of Staff to New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine. Prior to that, she was appointed by Governor Corzine to be Commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2006. Jackson joined DEP in 2002, serving as Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement, then Assistant Commissioner for Land Use Management, before becoming Commissioner. Prior to joining DEP, she worked for 16 years as an employee of the U.S. EPA, initially at its headquarters in Washington and later at its regional office in New York City. Jackson is a summa cum laude graduate of Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University.
Back to Federal Agencies List
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Charles Bolden, Administrator (About)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to conduct space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain U.S. preeminence in aeronautics and space. NASA's unique mission of exploration, discovery, and innovation is intended to preserve the U.S. role as both a leader in world aviation and as the pre-eminent space-faring nation. It is NASA's mission to: advance human exploration, use and development of space; advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe; and research, develop, verify and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies. The geoscience community is most interested in the Earth science observations conducted within the recently re-organized Science Mission Directorate: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Planetary Science and Astrophysics.
NASA receives its mandate from the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (42 U.S.C. §§ 2471 et seq).
About the Administrator
Charles Bolden has over 34 years experience in the U.S. Marine Corps and was selected in 1980 to become a NASA astronaut. He went into orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission. Prior to Bolden's nomination for the NASA Administrator's job, he was employed as the Chief Executive Officer of JACKandPANTHER LLC, a small business enterprise providing leadership, military and aerospace consulting, and motivational speaking. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s degree in system management from the University of Southern California. Bolden's many military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006. A more complete biography is available here.
Back to Federal Agencies List
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Arden Bement, Director (About)
The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" NSF serves as the funding source for about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by American colleges and universities. A key program of interest to the Earth sciences is NSF's Geosciences Directorate.
NSF fulfills its mission by issuing limited-term grants, currently about 10,000 new awards per year with an average duration of three years, to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system. Most of these awards go to individuals or small groups of investigators. Others provide funding for research centers, instruments and facilities that allow scientists, engineers and students to work at the frontiers of knowledge. NSF's goal is to support the people, ideas and tools that together make discovery possible.
Equipment that is needed by scientists and engineers but is often too expensive for any individual or group to afford is also funded by NSF. Examples of such major research equipment include EarthScope, giant optical and radio telescopes, Antarctic research sites, high-end computer facilities and ultra-high-speed connections, ships for ocean research, sensitive detectors of very subtle physical phenomena, and gravitational wave observatories.
Another essential element in NSF's mission is support for science and engineering education, from pre-school through graduate school and beyond. The educational programs supported by the Education and Human Resources Directorate is integrated with basic research to help ensure that there will always be plenty of skilled people available to work in new and emerging scientific, engineering and technological fields, and plenty of capable teachers to educate the next generation.
NSF receives its mandate from the National Science Foundation Organic Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1861-75), with additional amendments from the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act and regulations stipulated in the Code of Federal (45 C.F.R. Part VI).
About the Director
Before becoming NSF director in November 2004, Dr. Arden Bement served as director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the Department of Commerce, a position he had held since Dec. 7, 2001. He joined NIST from Purdue University, where he was the David A. Ross Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and head of the School of Nuclear Engineering. He has held appointments at Purdue University in the schools of Nuclear Engineering, Materials Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as a courtesy appointment in the Krannert School of Management. Dr. Bement joined the Purdue faculty in 1992 after a 39-year career in industry, government and academia. Dr. Bement holds an engineer of metallurgy degree from the Colorado School of Mines, a master's degree in metallurgical engineering from the University of Idaho, a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the University of Michigan, and honorary doctorates from Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, and the Colorado School of Mines, as well as a Chinese Academy of Sciences Graduate School Honorary Professorship.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Dale Klein, Chairman (About)
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was established as an independent agency by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to provide oversight for the nation’s domestic nuclear power industry. The commission became operational on January 17, 1975, and took over the regulatory work done by the controversial Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was abolished by Congress in 1974. The development and production of nuclear weapons and nuclear power was left to the Department of Energy. The NRC’s regulatory activities include reactor safety oversight, reactor license renewal for existing power plants, licensing of new nuclear facilities, nuclear materials safety oversight, nuclear materials licensing, and both high-level and low-level nuclear waste. In addition to these activities, the NRC also coordinates emergency preparedness programs and response procedures in the event of an incident at a nuclear facility.
Of interest to geoscientists, is the NRC regulation of uranium extraction and nuclear storage faculties. The NRC regulates extraction of uranium if in-situ leaching methods are used at a mining facility (if uranium ore is mined using conventional methods, the operation is regulated by the Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining). Regardless of the extraction method, the NRC provides all oversight once uranium ore reaches a processing mill for development of nuclear fuel. In the licensing process of low- and high-level waste storage facilities, the NRC must define regulations that consider geologic conditions in accordance with EPA site-specific standards. In June 2008, the NRC received an application from the Department of Energy to license the high-level waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The licensing application is still under consideration at the NRC, but is being forwarded through the process mainly as a test of the system after the Obama Administration expressed interest in finding alternatives to Yucca Mountain.
About the Chairman
Before becoming Chairman of the NRC, Dr. Dale Klein served as the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs. Previously, Dr. Klein served as the Vice-Chancellor for Special Engineering Programs at the University of Texas System and as a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (Nuclear Program) at the University of Texas at Austin. During his tenure at the university, Dr. Klein was Director of the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory, Deputy Director of the Center for Energy Studies, and Associate Dean for Research and Administration in the College of Engineering. Dr. Klein holds a bachelor's and master's degree in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in nuclear engineering, all from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Back to Federal Agencies List
G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian (About)
The Smithsonian Institution is unique in the Federal establishment. Established by the Congress in 1846 to carry out the trust included in James Smithson's will, it has been engaged for over 150 years in the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" in accordance with the donor's instructions. With the expenditure of both private and Federal funds over the years, it has grown into one of the world's great scientific, cultural, and intellectual organizations. It operates magnificent museums, outstanding art galleries, and important research centers. Its collections are among the best in the world, attracting approximately 25 million visitors annually in recent years to its museums, galleries, and zoological park, according to the Smithsonian website. As custodian of the National Collections, the Smithsonian is responsible for more than 140 million art objects, natural history specimens, and artifacts. These collections are displayed for the enjoyment and education of visitors and are available for research by the staff of the Institution and by hundreds of visiting students, scientists, and historians each year. Other significant study efforts draw their data and results directly from terrestrial, marine, and astrophysical observations at various Smithsonian installations. The Smithsonian receives its mandate from the Smithsonian Institution Organic Act of 1846.
About the Secretary
Before his appointment to the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough served as president of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 14 years. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 1964 and 1965 and a doctorate in 1969 in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Clough has been a professor at Duke University, Stanford University and Virginia Tech. He served as head of the department of civil engineering and dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and as provost at the University of Washington. Clough currently serves as a member of the National Science Board and as chair of the National Research Council Committee on New Orleans Regional Hurricane Protection Projects.
Back to Federal Agencies List
U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC)
Mead Treadwell, Chairman (About)
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC) is a federal agency tasked with coordinating federal scientific research efforts in Arctic regions, and making policy recommendations to the President and Congress. Established by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, the commission has a wide range of duties including: guidance of national policy, priorities, and goals for scientific research in the Arctic, working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to implement, support, and coordinate collaboration on research between the federal agencies. USARC is also tasked with providing guidance to the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) in the development of national research projects and to coordinate communication with Arctic residents, international scientists, and local Arctic organizations and institutes to gain the widest spectrum of insight on Arctic research needs. USARC oversees the U.S. polar ice-breaking fleet and tackles climate change issues as they relate to national security and arctic research.
The commission is comprised of seven members appointed by the President, and is located in Arlington, VA and Anchorage, AK. Four members are from academic or research institutions, two from private industry involved in commercial operations in the Arctic, and one member representing the indigenous U.S. citizens in Arctic regions. Major recommendations from the commission regarding Arctic research policy and priorities are published in the biennial report on Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research.
About the Chairman
Mead Treadwell was appointed to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in 2001 and was designated chair by the President in 2006. Currently, Treadwell serves as Senior Fellow of the Institute of the North, and has served as the Institute’s first full time Managing Director and Adjunct Professor of Business when the Institute was part of Alaska Pacific University. Concurrently, in business, Mead Treadwell is Chairman and CEO of Venture Ad Astra, an Anchorage, Alaska based firm which invests in and develops new geospatial and imaging technologies. He is non-executive chairman of Immersive Media Company, a publicly listed corporation Venture Ad Astra helped refinance in 2003. Treadwell served as Deputy Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation from 1990-1994, and represented the State of Alaska on U.S. Delegations in three circumpolar government groups. He serves on the Board of the Yale Library Associates, his undergraduate alma mater, and has served as Secretary of the Class of 1982 of the Harvard Graduate School of Business where he earned his MBA.
Back to Federal Agencies List
Sources: Federal Agency Websites, AGI Policy Pages, AGI's Monthly Review
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Clint Carney, 2009 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern; Stephanie Praus, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Joey Fiore, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Mollie Pettit, 2009 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern; Elizabeth Brown, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Elizabeth Huss, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Kiya Wilson, 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, 2010 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.
Background section includes material from Federal Agency websites.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on November 5, 2010