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Congress: Structure, Status and Key Committees (12/5/12)

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

To find out when the House or the Senate is in session, click here for a calendar of the Second Session of the 112th Congress.

Recent Action

Outlook for Science Legislation in the 113th Congress
The 113th Congress will be tasked with the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (P.L No: 111-358), reauthorization of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the closing of the Federal Helium Reserve, regulations related to unconventional oil and gas development and climate change. Notable leadership updates include the appointment of Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) to replace Ralph Hall (R-TX) as chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

The America COMPETES Act is set to expire in the fall of 2013. The act was first passed in 2007 (P.L No: 110-69), and then reauthorized in 2010 (P.L No: 111-358). The act promotes science education through governing and supporting science and education programs through the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Among the provisions in the 2010 reauthorization is a 10-year doubling of these three key federal agencies budgets, which has yet to be realized.

The current NASA authorization passed in 2010 (P.L. No: 111-267) expires in 2013 and Chairman Smith will lead the effort in the House to set the policy and authorization levels for NASA.

The Federal Helium Reserve is currently on track to close in 2013, which would devastate the helium market. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 (S. 2374) which would continue to fund the Federal Helium Reserve as the helium market transitions to relying on helium from private industry.  If Congress does not pass S. 2374 this December, look for similar legislation to be introduced early next year.

The next Congress will shape the role of unconventional oil and gas production in decreasing dependence on imported energy. The U.S. has the largest shale energy resources of any country. Because of recent technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the U.S. poised to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer of oil by 2020. However unconventional energy production remains controversial due to uncertain environmental impacts, especially regarding water use.

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Previous Action

Election Brings Leadership Changes to Congress (11/12)
The November election has brought changes to key leadership positions in geoscience related committees for the 113th Congress.

The Democrats, and the Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), will retain control of the Senate. Republican leadership in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will see changes as Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) retire in January. Hutchison is the ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and played a key role in securing bipartisan support for the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act in 2010 (H.R. 5116). Hutchison will be replaced by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). Snowe is the ranking member of the Ocean, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee. It is not yet known who will replace Snowe though Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are next in line.

Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and chair of the Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Subcommittee, is retiring as well. Bingaman is currently sponsoring several bills in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources including the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 (S. 3469), Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (S. 2146), and the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 (S. 2374). Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to replace Bingaman as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Wyden currently serves as chairman of the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee.

James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Environmental and Public Works Committee will be stepping down as he has reached the six-year term limit. Infahoe will remain a member of the committee and David Vitter (R-LA) is expected to replace him as ranking member. Vittler is expected to continue Inhofe’s work on reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act in bipartisan collaboration with Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Republicans and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) will maintain control of the House with a considerable majority. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is expected to remain the House Majority Leader as well. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has announced she intends to remain in her leadership position for the 113th Congress.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will see key leadership changes. The chairman, Ralph Hall (R-TX), will be stepping down this year as he has completed his six-year term as chairman and ranking member. Three Republicans have announced their intent to serve as the next chairman: Lamar Smith (R-TX), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Recent bills sponsored by Ralph Hall include the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Reauthorization Act of 2012 (H.R. 6489) and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 6564). Both bills have been introduced in the House and are awaiting further action.

Other notable leaders in the House who retired or lost their re-election include Brad Miller (D-NC), Jerry Costello (D-IL), and Ben Quayle (R-AZ) and Norm Dicks (D-WA). Brad Miller, ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, has retired after having his district redrawn. Costello, acting ranking member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and Dicks, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, retired while Quayle, chair of the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, lost his primary election. Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Hansen Clarke (D-MI) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO), all strong supporters of science, will not return next Congress.

Congress Faces Pressing Issues in Lame Duck Session (11/12)
During the next two months in the lame duck session - the period where the 112th Congress serves out their term until the 113th Congress begins in January - Congress will be working on three top priorities. First is how to avoid the "sequestration," the approximately one trillion dollars in automatic across-the-board cuts over defense, non-defense discretionary and Medicare spending set to take place on January 2, 2013. Second, Congress must decide whether or not to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts and tax credits, which expire which the end of 2012. Lastly, Congress may face another debt ceiling vote sometime in December though the Treasury Department may invoke extraordinary measures enabling the U.S. to meet its obligations until early 2013. In addition to these critical decisions, Congress may act on a variety of bills listed below.

For more information on how the sequester came to be, what it is, and how it would impact R&D, visit AGI's sequestration web site.

Republicans have expressed their desire to extend the Bush-era tax cuts while President Obama is only interested in extending the cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year and using the increase in tax revenue to pay down the deficit.

The U.S. Treasury Department has stated that the government will have to raise the debt limit for in order to meet its existing legal obligations. Congress must act on this issue before early 2013. Congress has a very short period of time to act on these financial issues that could throw the U.S. back into a recession.

In the lame duck session, Congress may act on the travel and conference limitations which have been put forth in the House and Senate. The Government Spending Accountability (GSA) Act of 2012 (H.R. 4631) has passed in the House while the Senate has passed the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789) accompanied by Senate Amendment 2060 which contains similar language to H.R. 4631. While the House and Senate have passed similar bills, the House bill must either be passed in the Senate or the Senate bill passed in the House or alternatively, a compromise on the differences in the two bills could be reached in conference for the measure to become law. AGI has sent letters to the respective committees and sponsors detailing the effects of drastic travel and conference restrictions on science societies and the scientific process.

Staff in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have compiled a list of unfinished business that Congress may return to in a lame duck session. This list includes the above financial issues as well as the ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty and the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

A few important science policy bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress, but have not yet passed, would have to be reintroduced in the 113th Congress should they fall to the wayside during the lame duck. Three such bills are sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-MN), who will be retiring in January. These bills include the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 (S. 3469), the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (S. 2146) and the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 (S. 2374). The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 would establish the Nuclear Waste Administration (NWA) as an independent agency in the executive branch to provide for the permanent disposal of nuclear waste and would establish the Nuclear Waste Oversight Board. S. 2146 would amend the Pubic Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (16 U.S.C. 46) to require electric utilities, which sell to consumers in a state (other than Alaska or Hawaii), to sell a percentage of such electric energy from clean energy sources. S. 2374 would continue to fund the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Helium Reserve, which currently supplies a third of worldwide helium supply, establish a market price for helium and continue selling helium to private users until it reaches a threshold level at which point the Helium Reserve would transition to selling helium exclusively to federal users until the reserve is drawn down to a base level.

Notable bills in the House awaiting further action include the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDS) Reauthorization Act of 2012 (H.R. 6489) and the National Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 3479). National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDS) Reauthorization Act of 2012 has been introduced into the House and would amend the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006 to specify that the NIDIS shall better inform and provide more timely decision-making to reduce impacts and costs related to drought. H.R. 3479 reauthorizes the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) through fiscal year (FY) 2014. NEHRP is a long-standing cooperative program involving the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to understand, monitor and analyze earthquakes and mitigate earthquake risks.

In addition, the federal production tax credits (PTC), which make wind more competitive with other forms of energy, are set to expire on December 31, 2012. In the lame duck Congress will decide whether they will extend or cut the PTC.

Given the number of unfinished business items and urgency of the financial issues Congress must deal with, it is likely that many items will not be addressed in the 112th Congress.

Coburn Releases 2012 Report Highlighting Wasteful Government Spending (10/12)
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released the “Wastebook 2012,” an annual report which highlights wasteful government spending. This 2012 report reveals $18 billion in wasted spending on 100 projects and tax loopholes. Coburn lists the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) as spending only "one in five taxpayer dollars" on science. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is holding a hearing on November 15 to investigate ways of "achieving fiscal and logistical efficiencies" in the USAP.

Library of Congress Unveils New Web Site to replace THOMAS (09/12)
On September 19, 2012, the Library of Congress launched the beta version of Congress.gov as the search engine for federal U.S. legislation to eventually replace THOMAS.gov which was launched in 1995.

Notable features of Congress.gov include a more user friendly interface which allows users to search all content across all available years, narrow and refine results, and use the site on a mobile device more effectively. The new web site will provide consistent and permanent URLs. Additional data that will be available on Congress.gov include the Congressional Record, Congressional reports, the Congressional Record Index, House and Senate Calendars, nominations and treaties.

Bipartisan Group of Congressmen Announce Award for Basic Science (04/12)
On April 25, Representatives Jim Cooper (D-TN), Robert Dold (R-IL), and Charlie Dent (R-PA) announced the creation of the Golden Goose Award. The award will honor federally funded researchers whose work, which had been viewed as obscure, has ultimately produced important discoveries for society.

The first Golden Goose Awards will be announced in September 2012 and will be selected by a group of outside scientists and editors. Federally funded obscure research projects have occasionally been targeted by politicians as wasteful spending. Former Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) often gave the Golden Fleece Award, meant to indicate examples of wasteful government spending, to federally funded basic research. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report entitled Under the Microscope in April 2011 that urged the National Science Foundation (NSF) to quit funding projects “simply satisfying the random curiosities of some researchers.” Cooper remarked, “We’ve all seen reports that ridicule odd-sounding research projects as examples of government waste. The Golden Goose Award does the opposite. It recognizes that a valuable federally funded research project may sound funny, but its purpose is no laughing matter. I hope more of my colleagues will join us in supporting, not killing, the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Retirements Mean New Faces for 113th Congress (12/11)
The number of Senate Democrats retiring continues to rise with the December 27 announcement that Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) will not seek reelection in 2012. There are 33 elections that will take place in November 2012 for the Senate. Nine of these races will fill an open seat created by retirements. Six of the nine retirements will be Democrats including Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), chairman of the Budget Committee. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Minority Whip, are the two Republicans not seeking reelection. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will not seek reelection either.

In the House of Representatives, notable retirements include Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Jerry Costello (D-IL) of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology; Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Dan Boren (D-OK) of the Committee on Natural Resources; Mike Ross (R-AR) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; Steve Austria (R-OH) of the Committee on Appropriations; and Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA). Many other House members are running for other political offices, so the House will change even more in 2013. 

Representative Coffman Forms Congressional Rare Earth Caucus (11/11)
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) has announced the creation of a congressional Rare Earth Caucus for domestic rare earth mineral exploration, production, and growing industries. This move was encouraged by the Association of Rare Earths (RARE), a new group who sent a letter to Congress in October requesting such a caucus. Chinese control over seventeen major rare earth minerals has sparked a frenzy to boost domestic production and restart U.S. mining projects. The caucus, which has bipartisan support and membership, will help increase awareness of the issue and set policies to boost related industries that have proliferated overseas.

Republican Victories in New York and Nevada (09/11)
On September 13 the Republican Party won two special House elections in New York and Nevada. Elections took place to replace Representatives Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who resigned in June of 2011 and Dean Heller (R-NV) who was appointed to the Senate after Senator John Ensign (R-NV) resigned in April of 2011. Republican Bob Turner beat Democrat David Weprin in New York while Republican Mark Amodei beat Democrat Kate Marshall in Nevada. With Turner and Amodei headed to Washington, the House now consists of 242 Republicans and 192 Democrats, with one vacant seat.

Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (08/11)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) each selected three lawmakers for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Created by Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) the joint committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions. There is no upper limit to how much the committee produces in savings and no restrictions as to how they find the savings. At least seven of the 12 committee members must approve of a plan before it can be presented to Congress. Like the committee, Congress can then vote for the plan and a simple majority is enough for passage. No Senate filibuster will be allowed because there is limited time to pass any legislation and no one wants to allow one person to potentially halt the proceedings. The committee must present its plan by November 23 and Congress will vote on this plan by December 23, 2011. It remains unclear whether or how the committee might consider taxes in their planning.  If the committee does not come up with an agreeable plan, then automatic cuts would be divided over security, non-security and Medicare spending. Social Security and Medicaid would not be considered in this measure. The committee is co-chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Rob Portman (R-OH) are the other members from the Senate. Representatives Dave Camp (R-MI), Fred Upton (R-MI), James Clyburn (D-SC), Xavier Bacerra (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are the other members from the House.

Janice Hahn Defeats Craig Huey for California Congressional Seat (07/11)
On July 12, 2011 Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) defeated Craig Huey (R), 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent, for the California 36 district congressional seat left vacant by Jane Harman (D). This brings the Republican majority in the House of Representative to 240, with 192 Democrats and three vacant positions.  An election to replace Anthony Weiner (D-NY) who resigned in late June, will take place on September 13, 2011 between David Weprin (D) and Bob Turner (R).  Kate Marshall (D) and Mark Amodei (R) are running for Nevada’s vacant seat, left open when former Representative Dean Heller (R-NV) was appointed to replace former Senator John Ensign (R-NV). Representative David Wu (D-OR) intends to resign in August and a special election will fill this vacancy in the future. The Senate remains at 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 Independents.

Gulf Coast Lawmakers Form House Caucus (06/11)
Eleven Gulf coast lawmakers have formed a bipartisan congressional caucus designed to focus on legislation and policies relevant to the Gulf. Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) co-chair the Gulf Coast Caucus that primarily hopes to secure 80 percent of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill payments for the Gulf states.  However, there is little agreement among members on how the money should be divided. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and David Vitter’s (R-LA) bill (S.861) recommends sending a majority of the money to Louisiana, which suffered most of the spill's environmental impacts, while Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) bill (S.862) would divide the money up based on coastline miles. Neither of these bills has passed out of committee.

Senate Committees Announce Subcommittee Leadership (02/11)
The Senate Committee on Appropriations, led by Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Vice Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced the subcommittee leadership for the 112th Congress.

There will be twelve subcommittees with responsibility for appropriating funds for specific agencies and programs. The leadership has not been finalized, but below are the currently listed leaders and the jurisdiction of the subcommittees of most interest to the geoscience community.

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee: Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO) with responsibilities for research within the Department of Agriculture.

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee: Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) with responsibilities for research within NSF, NASA, NOAA, and NIST.

Energy and Water Development Subcommittee: Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with responsibilities for research at the Energy Department.

Interior, Environment Subcommittee: Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) with responsibilities for research at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced the subcommittee leadership positions for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Key subcommittee Chairs and Ranking Members include Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and James Risch (R-ID) for Energy; Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Barrasso (R-WY) for Public Lands and Forest; and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will replace Debbie Stabenow for Water and Power, with Ranking Member Mike Lee (R-UT).

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will continue to be led by Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), and subcommittee leadership is set. The subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will be led by Chairman Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY). Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remains Chair of the subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy and John Boozman (R-AR) will be Ranking Member. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) continues as Chair, with Mike Crapo (R-ID) as Ranking Member, of the Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health subcommittee. The Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee will be lead by Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will head the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

Chairman Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation announced the subcommittee leadership positions. John Kerry (D-MA) and John Ensign (R-NV) continue as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, respectively. The Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion will be led by Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO). Mark Begich (D-AK) takes up the Chairman position for the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, with Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as Ranking Member. Bill Nelson (D-FL) will Chair the Subcommittee on Science and Space with John Boozman (R-AR) as Ranking Member. 

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry have yet to announce their subcommittee leadership.

Appropriations Subcommittees Almost Set
The House Committee on Appropriations will be lead by Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA). There will be twelve subcommittees with responsibility for appropriating funds for specific agencies and programs. The leadership and jurisdiction of the subcommittees of most interest to the geoscience community include:

Agriculture Subcommittee: Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Ranking Member Sam Farr (D-CA) with responsibilities for research within the Department of Agriculture.

Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee: Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) with responsibilities for research within NSF, NASA, NOAA, and NIST.

Energy and Water Subcommittee: Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Members Pete Visclosky (D-IN) with responsibilities for research at the Energy Department.

Interior, Environment Subcommittee: Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) with responsibilities for research at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Senate Committee on Appropriations will be led by Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Vice Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS). There will be twelve subcommittees with responsibility for appropriating funds for specific agencies and programs. The leadership has not been finalized, but below are the currently listed leaders and the jurisdiction of the subcommittees of most interest to the geoscience community.

Agriculture Subcommittee: Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Ranking Member (D-CA) with responsibilities for research within the Department of Agriculture.

Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee: Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) with responsibilities for research within NSF, NASA, NOAA, and NIST.

Energy and Water Subcommittee: Leadership is undecided, but this subcommittee will continue to have responsibilities for research at the Energy Department.

Interior, Environment Subcommittee: Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with responsibilities for research at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Feinstein may become the chair for Energy, so there are likely changes to leadership coming soon.

Senate Committee Leadership Update
The Senate did not see as many changes in committee leadership from the 111th Congress moving in to the 112th as did the House, and the Democrats retained a slight majority after the November elections. The new Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Charles “Pat” Roberts (R-KS) is now the Ranking Member.

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) will continue as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) remains Ranking Member. Rockefeller IV plans to focus on improving infrastructure and strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and Hutchinson has expressed continued interest in NASA oversight. 

Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) continue as Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, respectively. Murkowski is expected to push for oil and gas development in the Arctic.

Barbara Boxer (D-CA) remains Chairman of the Committee Environment and Public Works and has introduced legislation to monitor contaminants in drinking water and reduce air pollution. Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) is expected to sponsor a bill that would block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions leadership is the same, with Tom Harkin (D-IA) as Chair and Michael Enzi (R-WY) as Ranking Member. The two have plans to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act.

House Committee Leadership Update
Members and chairs of key House committees have been appointed for the 112th Congress. In the Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI) is the Chair and Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the Ranking Member. Subcommittee chairs include Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) for Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, Ed Whitfield (R-KY ) for Energy and Power, John Shimkus (R-IL) for Environment and Economy, and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) for Oversight and Investigations. A leaked Republican agenda for the committee focuses on opposing greenhouse gas regulation, curtailing rising gas prices, and investigating the cost of renewable electricity standards.

In the House Natural Resources Committee Doc Hastings (R-WA) is the Chair and Edward Markey (D-MA) is the Ranking Member. Key subcommittee chairs include Doug Lamborn (R-CO) for Energy and Mineral Resources, Rob Bishop (R-UT) for National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and Tom McClintock (R-CA) for Water and Power. The committee promises to look closely at federal wild lands policy and energy development, including offshore drilling. The committee held a hearing on the National Oil Spill Commission’s report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster on January 26.

Adding the designation “space” this year, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will be led by Chair Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). The committee is returning after successful passage of the America COMPETES Reauthorization (H.R. 5116). Authorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), however, was stalled in the Senate and will require a new bill from the SS&T Committee. Subcommittee chairs include the following: Andy Harris (R-MD) for Energy and Environment, Mo Brooks (R-LA) for Research, Science and Education, and Ben Quayle (R-AZ) for Technology and Innovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Background

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

Senate Committees:

House Committees:

 
 
 

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

Key subcommittees include:
Jobs, Rural Economic Growth, and Energy Innovation (Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair and John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member)
Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources (Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chair and John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member)
Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Food and Agricultural Research (Bob Casey (D-PA), Chair and Dick Lugar (R-IN), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chair and Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Ranking Member)
Energy and Water Development (Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chair and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Member)
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Jack Reed (D-RI), Chair and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Communications and Technology (John Kerry (D-MA), Chair and Jim DeMint (R-SC), Ranking Member)
Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion (Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chair and Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ranking Member)
Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard (Mark Begich (D-AK), Chair and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ranking Member)
Science and Space (Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chair and John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Energy (Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair and Jim Risch (R-ID), Ranking Member)
Public Lands and Forests (Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair and John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member)
Water and Power (Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chair and Mike Lee (R-UT), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Clean Air and Nuclear Safety (Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chair and John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member)
Green Jobs and the New Economy (Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chair and John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member)
Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health (Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chair and Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ranking Member)
Transportation and Infrastructure (Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair and David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member)
Water and Wildlife (Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Children and Families (Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair and Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member)
Employment and Workplace Safety (Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Conservation, Energy, and Forestry (G.T. Thompson (R-PA), Chair and Tim Holden (D-PA), Ranking Member)
Department Operations, Oversight, and Credit (Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Chair and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Jack Kingston (R-GA), Chair and Sam Farr (D-CA), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chair and Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Ranking Member)
Energy and Water Development (Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Chair and Pete Visclosky (D-IN), Ranking Member)
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chair and Jim Moran (D-VA), Ranking Member)

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

Key committees include:
Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education (Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chair and Dale Kildee (D-MI), Ranking Member) 
Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (Phil Roe (R-TN), Chair and Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Ranking Member) 
Higher Education and Workforce Training (Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), Ranking Member)
Workforce Protections (Tim Walberg (R-MI), Chair and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Energy and Power (Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chair and Bobby Rush (D-IL), Ranking Member)
Communications and Technology (Greg Walden (R-OR), Chair and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Ranking Member)
Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade (Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Chair and G.K. Butterfield, Jr. (D-NC), Ranking Member)
Oversight and Investigations (Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chair and Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Energy and Mineral Resources (Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chair and Rush Holt (D-NJ), Ranking Member)
Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs (John Fleming, Jr. (R-LA), Chair and Donna Christensen (D-VI), Ranking Member)
National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chair and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member)
Water and Power (Tom McClintock (R-CA), Chair and Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Space and Aeronautics (Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Chair and Jerry Costello (D-IL), Ranking Member)
Technology and Innovation (Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Chair and Donna Edwards (D-MD), Ranking Member)
Research and Science Education (Mo Brooks (R-AL), Chair and Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Ranking Member)
Energy and Environment (Andy Harris (R-MD), Chair and Brad Miller (D-NC), Ranking Member)

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

Key subcommittees include:
Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Material (Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chair and Corrine Brown (D-FL), Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment (Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Chair and Tim Bishop (D-NY), Ranking Member)

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Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Vicki Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett, AAPG/AGI Fall 2012 Intern.

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

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on December 5, 2012

 

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