American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Testimony: House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee: FY 1999

Statement by
Dr. David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
of the American Geological Institute to the
Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
in support of Fiscal Year 1998 Appropriations for the
U.S. Geological Survey
and the
Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D Program
March 4, 1998

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Good morning. I am Dr. David Applegate, government affairs director of the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present AGI's testimony in support of fiscal year 1999 appropriations for geoscience programs within this su bcommittee's jurisdiction. Although my remarks will focus on the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program, AGI also urges the subcommittee to fund geoscience activities at the Minerals Management Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Smithsonian Institution.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 31 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate Members. Founded in 1948, AGI is celebrating 50 years of providing information services to geoscientists. AGI serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role that the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

It was not long ago that geoscience-related agencies under this subcommittee's jurisdiction faced the most serious budgetary challenge in their history and in several cases outright elimination. This challenge came even as this nation faced a wide range of important problems requiring geoscience information and expertise: from earthquakes, floods, droughts, and volcanic eruptions to global environmental changes, water pollution, contamination from waste disposal, and reliance on unstable sources of forei gn oil and minerals. Fortunately, this subcommittee and Congress as a whole ultimately recognized the value of federal investments in the geosciences, which continue to pay back large dividends. The rationale for continuing this investment has never been stronger. The national need for a federal role in the geosciences is based on a number of factors, most notably:

U.S. Geological Survey

The central mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide reliable, objective earth science data and analysis of hazards, resources, and the environment from a national perspective. Virtually every American citizen and every federal, state, and local agency benefits either directly or indirectly from USGS products and services. The USGS is widely recognized for providing unbiased data used by others to better manage the nation's resources. It is to be commended for focusing on the needs of its customers and for developing partnerships to leverage federal dollars. As Chairman Regula wrote in the March, 1996 issue of Geotimes, the Survey's "willingness and ability to respond to the changing needs of society may have been the single m ost significant factor in helping it survive in the current budget climate." AGI encourages the subcommittee to support the President's overall request of $807 million for the USGS, an increase of $47.7 million. However, we also hope that the subcommittee will carefully scrutinize the distribution of this increase and particularly address the reduced funding for the Geologic Division contained within the President's request, including cuts to programs for geologic mapping, coastal studies, mineral resourc es, and energy resources.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has calculated that budgets for science and technology in the Department of the Interior declined by 25% in constant dollars between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 1998, far more than in any other federal department or agency. Even with the increases proposed in the President's fiscal year 1999 budget request, science at Interior would still be 20% below what it was five years ago. Much, but by no means all, of that decrease was associated with th e closure of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the National Biological Service, many of whose former functions were transferred to the USGS, which now stands as the lone science agency at Interior. AGI strongly believes that the Survey's new responsibilities s hould not come at the expense of important existing programs. Scientific activities within Interior should not continue to bear an unfair share of spending cuts, and should instead be strongly supported as a wise investment in the future health of this na tion's citizens, environment, and economy.

This winter's landslides and flooding in California brought on by the strong El Nino effect are powerful reminders of the need to reduce the impact of geologic hazards. In order to be successful, the federal government's increased mitigation efforts must include a strong component of research into these hazards. The societal benefits and returns on investment of geoscience R&D on earthquakes and other geologic hazards extend to such areas as housing, transportation, commerce, agriculture, communications , and human health and safety. Although AGI supports the Administration's Natural Disaster Reduction Initiative, we are concerned that few if any funds are being directed toward the important work being done by the Survey's Geologic and Water Resources D ivisions.

The California flooding is yet another reminder of the continuing need for the streamflow information provided by the USGS that is the basis for flood forecasts by the National Weather Service and emergency response planning by federal, state, and local a gencies. This information is collected by the USGS in partnership with over 1,100 state and local agencies that cost-share the data collection that the USGS then makes available to all potential users. This program should receive funding adequate to mai ntain historical levels of service and support modernization.

Whether for natural hazard mitigation, environmental remediation, land-use planning, or resource development, geologic maps represent a fundamental data source for addressing these and other critical problems. AGI was pleased by the unanimous passage and enactment of the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997 this past year, but we are frustrated that only six months after the President signed this bill into law, the Administration's budget request not only fails to achieve the authorized level of $28 million but proposes instead a $1.7 million decrease from the fiscal year 1998 level of $22.2 million. The Administration requested a similar cut last year, which this subcommittee wisely restored in recognition of the fact that geologic mapp ing is a cornerstone of the USGS mission. We urge this subcommittee to fully fund the program and particularly the external StateMap and EdMap components that are matched by state and university dollars.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development

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

The federal investment in energy R&D is particularly important when it comes to longer-range research with broad benefits. In today's competitive markets, the private sector focuses dwindling research dollars on shorter-term results in highly applied area s such as technical services. According to Energy Information Administration analysis, the major oil and gas companies have sharply curtailed their research in recent years, for example a decrease of over 17 percent in constant dollars between 1989 and 1 993 from $811 million to $671 million. In that same time period, private-sector support for long-term basic and applied research (with a time horizon of 7 years or greater) dropped over 30 percent from $260 million to $180 million.

In this context, DOE's support of fossil energy research is very significant both in magnitude and impact compared to that done in the private sector. Without it, we risk losing our technological edge with this global commodity. AGI requests that this sub committee grant DOE's request for R&D programs within the Office of Fossil Energy. These funds are a small fraction of DOE's total budget, but they represent an important investment in this nation's future. DOE's Fossil Energy R&D program is making a sign ificant contribution to development of new technologies required for cost-effective, efficient development of U.S. oil and gas resources. The federal money spent on these programs goes to support laboratories and improve information dissemination. This money does not go into corporate coffers, but it helps American businesses stay in business by giving them a technological edge over their foreign competitors.

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

Another important DOE program that is contributing to the sustainability of domestic production is the Reservoir Class Field Demonstration Program, which is designed to decrease the rate of abandonment of marginal oil wells and fields, a key challenge to maintaining domestic production. In a 1996 report, a National Research Council panel concluded "that the Reservoir Class Program is demonstrating advanced and conventional technologies that have the potential to prolong the lives of marginal oil fields."

Although not funded in the President's fiscal year 1999 request, the National Geoscience Data Repository System project is an excellent example of a partnership between DOE, state government, and the private sector. Domestic geological and geophysical da ta are critical to the energy security and economic prosperity of the United States. A consequence of the ongoing downsizing of the U.S. oil and gas industry is that billions of dollars worth of domestic geological and geophysical data are in jeopardy of being irrevocably lost or destroyed. According to many independent oil producers, a national geoscience data repository system would enable them to expand their search for and development of domestic oil and gas resources. AGI is working with DOE and t he private sector to leverage federal dollars with industry contributions in order to establish a national geoscience data repository system for the use of industry, government, and the scientific research community.

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

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

Last updated March 4, 1998

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