Monthly Review: January 2001


This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

California Electricity Crisis Receives National Attention
National Monument Designations, Public Land Actions Under Fire
New House Science Committee Chairman Outlines Agenda
Natural Hazards Caucus Holds Event, Releases Discussion Paper
USGS Director Retained by Bush Administration
IPCC Releases Climate Change Report
Alabama Revisits Science Standards and Evolution
AGI Co-Sponsors Transition Luncheon
Welcome to AGI/AAPG Semester Intern
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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California Electricity Crisis Receives National Attention
Rising electricity bills and rolling blackouts have brought the California energy crunch into the spotlight, providing the new Administration and new Congress the chance to talk up a national energy policy.  On January 31st, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a well-attended hearing to discuss the California situation and how its effects are creeping beyond the California border and into other western states.  Testimony was heard from California utility representatives of both investor and privately owned firms, energy industry experts, and financial consultants.  The panelists agreed that in the long term the California electricity market was going to have to be restructured -- most recommending a completely deregulated market.  Potential short-term solutions to the crisis were discussed in detail due to the threat of more severe shortages of power during the summer months.  Senators and panelists both stressed the need for the public to understand that electricity is not generated by, as stated by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), "flipping a light switch."  A complete summary of the hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/ca_elec_hearing.html.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush announced on January 29th that Vice President Cheney will head a task force that will report back to the president on "how best to cope with high energy prices and how best to cope with reliance upon foreign oil; how best to encourage the development of pipelines and power-generating capacity in the country so that we can better help out fellow citizens."  The task force, to be called the Energy Policy Development Group, will include several senior members of the Cabinet.  Most likely, there will be several hearings and meetings in the coming months on the California situation and establishing a national energy policy.

National Monument Designations, Public Land Actions Under Fire
Before leaving office on January 20th, President Clinton designated seven new national monuments and expanded an existing monument. The seven new monuments are Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Pompey's Pillar National Monument, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Sonoran Desert National Monument, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Minidoka Internment National Monument, and U.S. Virgin Island Coral Reef National Monument.  Buck Island Reef National Monument was expanded by 18,135 acres.  More information and descriptions of the new monuments can be found on the Department of the Interior website at  http://www.doi.gov/news/archives/001221.html.

In response to these and other eleventh-hour actions by the outgoing administration regarding public lands, President Bush instructed a 60-day stay on publishing new regulations in the Federal Register in order for the new administration to review "any new or pending regulations."  This order will not affect the newly designated national monuments but will affect the proposed U.S. Forest Service Roadless Initiative (http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/roadless.html) that would restrict road building and logging in 60 million acres of national forest around the country.

On Capitol Hill, new House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) has announced that his committee will be carefully reviewing several of the Clinton Administration regulations and national monument designations.  In a press release, Hansen stated: "Congress has the authority to review this and 60 legislative days to do so. I can promise you a thorough and vigorous review."  More information on public lands issues is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#public.

New House Science Committee Chairman Outlines Agenda
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the new Chairman of the House Science Committee, gave his first public speech in his new role on January 31st. Speaking to the Universities Research Association, he outlined his visions for the committee in the coming Congress: "I want to ensure that we have a healthy, sustainable, and productive R&D [research and development]  establishment -- one that educates students, increases human knowledge, strengthens U.S. competitiveness and contributes to the well-being of the nation and the world.  With those goals in mind, I intend to concentrate initially on three priorities -- science and math education, energy policy and the environment -- three areas in which the resources and expertise of the scientific enterprise must be brought to bear on issues of national significance." Boehlert hopes the committee will foster communication between scientists and different sectors in environmental science and policy. With respect to energy policy, Boehlert said he would focus "on ensuring that we concentrate sufficiently on alternative sources of energy wind, solar, fuel cells, etc. -- and on conservation and efficiency." More excerpts from Boehlert's speech are available from the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News at  http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2001/011.html.

Natural Hazards Caucus Holds Event, Releases Discussion Paper
On January 22nd, the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus kicked off its activities in the new 107th Congress with a roundtable event to consider the impacts of the recent earthquake in El Salvador and to discuss the broader natural hazards challenges facing the United States. In conjunction with the event, caucus co-chairs Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) released a discussion document prepared for the caucus, highlighting why the nation is becoming more vulnerable to natural disasters and what actions Congress can take to solve the problem. An AGI special update contains a description of the event and links to the discussion paper: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/hazards_caucus0101.html.

Bush Administration Retains USGS Director
In a move that signals a return to tradition, the Bush Administration has asked Charles G. "Chip" Groat to continue as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. For the first century of the survey's existence, the director's position did not change when a new political party took over the White House, reflecting the survey's role as a source of objective scientific information to support policy decisions. According to sources in the new administration, the decision to retain Groat was made easier by strong external support. AGI and several of its member societies sent letters to the Bush-Cheney transition team and Interior Secretary Gale Norton endorsing Groat and the non-partisan nature of the position. Groat's retention received strong support from numerous leading geoscientists in the private sector, including the trustees of the AGI Foundation. Support for the director was not limited to the geoscience community -- biological societies and other USGS stakeholder groups also sent letters to the transition team and Norton. In another victory for non-partisan science leadership, National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell appears likely to complete the final three years of her six-year term despite initial reports that the Bush administration might seek her resignation.

IPCC Releases Climate Change Report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its "Report Summary for Policymakers of Working Group I" this month, announcing dire predictions for future climate change.  The highly publicized report asserts that atmospheric temperatures have increased in the last four decades, causing ice to melt, sea level to rise, increased precipitation, cloud cover, and frequency of El Nino/La Nina events.  According to the report, there is strong evidence that human activity is the major cause of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In contrast, it finds that natural factors have made only small contributions to the increases in temperature and greenhouse gas concentrations.  The report explains the reasons for heightened confidence in recent climate models that predict continued rise in sea level and global average temperature in response to past, present, and future human activities.

Critics have been quick to point out the report's heavy reliance on climate model results for its assertions of large temperature increases in the coming century. Some also question the report's interpretation of existing temperature data. The purpose of the Working Group I report is to present the state of climate change science, although it also states the importance of continued research and monitoring.  Two other working groups of the IPCC will release their reports separately, giving implications and recommendations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (http://www.unfccc.de).  An official report summary can be found on the IPCC website (http://www.ipcc.ch) or the U.S. Global Change Research Program website (http://usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/new.htm), which is updated every two weeks with new developments in global change issues.

Alabama Revisits Science Standards and Evolution
The Alabama Board on Education is expected to vote February 8th on state science standards, called Course of Study, which will replace standards approved five years ago that brought the state into the limelight of the evolution debate. The new standards include a greater focus on earth science but also contain a preface that echoes language in the state's textbook disclaimers describing evolution as a "controversial theory." The Geological Society of Alabama has posted a version of the proposed standards at http://www.westga.edu/~geology/algs_web/ala_gs.html.  An AGU alert provides more news regarding the standards and information on how Alabama geoscientists can send comments: http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2001-05.msg.

AGI Co-Sponsors Transition Luncheon
On January 22nd, AGI co-sponsored a Capitol Hill luncheon for congressional staff on the importance of having scientists in presidential appointee positions.  Dr. Mary Good, former Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology, presented a report from the National Academy of Sciences that describes the importance of having scientists in the government, especially in presidential service (http://www.nationalacademies.org/presidentialappointments).  Included in the report are the "50 Most Urgent Science and Technology Presidential Appointments."  The second speaker, Carole Plowfield, a researcher with the Brookings Institution, presented a report compiled from the results of a survey of potential and confirmed presidential appointees (http://www.brookings.appointee.org).  The report makes recommendations for changing the appointment process to make it less embarrassing and less confusing for potential appointees as well as suggests ways to bring the perception of public service into a more positive light. The third speaker, Abram Hutchings of the Cato Institute, challenged the notion that simply having a scientific background qualifies one for an appointee position.  He stated that other skills in business, or social science might be necessary to be effective in an appointee position.  Also, he pointed out that politics corrupts science and therefore it is better to keep scientists in objective, information-gathering positions.

Now that the Bush-Cheney Administration has been inaugurated, the political appointment process has shifted from the Transition Office to the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. Contact information and other material on the appointment process is available from AGI's "Presidential Transition 2000: Geoscience Related Federal Appointments" at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/transition.html.

Welcome to AGI/AAPG Semester Intern
University of Nevada Reno geoscience major Mary Patterson has joined AGI's Government Affairs Program for the spring semester as an AGI/AAPG Geoscience and Public Policy Intern. She will be spending four months with AGI attending congressional hearings, researching policy issues, and writing issue updates for the program's website. We welcome Mary and gratefully acknowledge support for the internship provided by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
Feb. 23-25    AAPG Leadership Conference    Tulsa OK
March 23-24    AGI Associates Conference   Denver CO
April 23   AAPG Energy Supply Conference   Washington DC
May 1-2   SET Congressional Visits Day   Washington DC
May 3-4   AAAS Colloquium   Washington DC

New Material on Web Site
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:



Monthly review prepared by David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program, and AGI/AAPG Semester Intern Mary Patterson.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, EENews, Greenwire, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.S. Senate, White House.

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

Posted February 3, 2001


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