Monthly Review: February 2002


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.

Yucca Mountain is President's Choice for Nuclear Waste Repository
California School Board Ignores Geoscience Concerns
Special Updates Address FY 2003 Budget Request
Administration Proposes Clear Skies Initiative
Energy Legislation Too Heavy to Fly?
House Science Committee Considers R&D Budget Request
Summer Internship Application Deadline is March 15th
New Material on Web Site

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Yucca Mountain is President's Choice for Nuclear Waste Repository
On February 15th, President Bush announced his official decision to recommend the Yucca Mountain site to Congress for construction of a geologic repository for the nation's high-level nuclear waste. The president acted less than a day after receiving Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's official recommendation, which was the culmination of 20 years and $4 billion of site characterization activities by the Department of Energy (DOE). Abraham noted in his letter to Bush: "The results of this extensive investigation and the external technical reviews of this body of scientific work give me confidence for the conclusion, based on sound scientific principles, that a repository at Yucca Mountain will be able to protect the health and safety of the public when evaluated against the radiological protection standards adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency and implemented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn (R) has until mid-April to submit a Notice of Disapproval to Congress, which he will certainly do (in addition to suing DOE for failing to follow proper procedures). Congress then must vote on the notice within the next 90 days that they are in session ("in the first period of 90 calendars of continuous session"). Unlike a presidential veto, the state's notice can be overturned by a simple majority vote in both houses. If it is overturned, then the Secretary of Energy has 90 days to submit a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This series of actions could be over in a matter of months, although a recent General Accounting Office report suggested that DOE would not be ready to submit a license application for several years. Moreover, Nevada is launching a full-court press, both legally and politically, to stop the project. For more on developments related to Yucca Mountain, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/yucca.html.

The March 2002 issue of Geotimes focuses on this country's nuclear legacy, including an article on Yucca Mountain by DOE scientists and a Comment on the site's unsuitability by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). Another article addresses contamination from nuclear tests at Amchitka Island in the Aleutian chain, and the issue also includes a photo essay on the Nevada Test Site. The Yucca Mountain article and comment are on the web at http://www.geotimes.org/mar02.

California School Board Ignores Geoscience Concerns
On February 1st, the American Geological Institute sent out an alert about a looming vote by the California State School Board on the implementation plan for the state's science education standards. Unlike the standards, which gave earth science an equal footing with other scientific disciplines in the curriculum, the implementation plan ("California Science Framework for K-12 Public Schools") recommended high-school graduation requirements for science under which earth science could only count in very specific circumstances, marginalizing the subject. The purpose of the alert and a letter to the school board president from AGI Executive Director Marcus Milling and Stanford Dean of Earth Science Lynn Orr was to encourage the board to delay action and address concerns about negative consequences for earth science instruction. The American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, and Seismological Society of America also sent out alerts on this issue. Other AGI member societies and California geoscience societies took action as well. Despite many e-mails and faxes sent by California geoscientists requesting a delay, the school board voted in favor of the Framework at its February 6th meeting. Subsequently, consultants for the board told geoscientists that their concerns were in error; however additional scrutiny suggests that this response is misleading. More on this topic, including AGI's rebuttal of the school board's response, can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/cal_ed.html.

Special Updates Address FY 2003 Budget Request
As reported in a series of AGI special updates, President Bush released his fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget request on February 4th. Funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would increase by 5% over last year's allocation, but nearly half of the increase is due to program transfers from other agencies rather than new funds for existing NSF programs. All of the transfers are directed at the Geosciences Directorate, so that an apparent 13.4% increase is only 1.2% without the transfers, which Congress is not likely to approve. The biggest boost for the geosciences is the requested $35 million funding of the EarthScope project in the Major Research Equipment account.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive a 5 % decrease under the president's budget. Water programs take the largest hits: the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program would be eliminated with a portion of its funds transferred to NSF, the Water Resources Research Institutes are zeroed out, a $6 million cut; the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program is to be reduced by a similar amount; and the federal streamgage program funding would drop by $2 million. Among geologic programs, the biggest cut is to the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which would lose nearly $6 million.

The budget request for DOE's Office of Fossil Energy (FE) looks remarkably similar to last year's request. The overall FE request is down 5.2% from last year's allocation, and R&D activities are down 12.6%. Once again, natural gas (down 50%) and oil (down 37%) research programs are faced with particularly large cuts.  The geoscience program within DOE's Basic Energy Science division would receive flat funding. The president's fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget requests a 40% increase (to $527 million) for DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, anticipating a shift from site characterization to activities supporting submission of a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

More information on the budgets for geoscience programs in NSF, NASA, NOAA, USGS, EPA, and DOE is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/.

Administration Proposes Clear Skies Initiative
The Bush Administration unveiled a new climate change policy called the Clear Skies Initiative on February 14th.  This initiative plans to use voluntary industry participation to reduce US emissions of greenhouse gases by 18 percent in the next ten years.  The initiative also sets targets to cut sulfur dioxide by 73 percent, nitrogen oxides by 67 percent, and mercury emissions by 69 percent in the same time period.  All of these emission targets are to be met by using a cap-and-trade program.  This market-based approach to clean air establishes a maximum industry emission "cap."  The electricity generators must comply with a score card of allowance versus tons of pollution they produce. The government would regulate the amount of allowances for industry and gradually reduce them.  To demonstrate the capability of the Clear Skies Initiative, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman introduced the Climate Leaders program, which includes 11 corporations that have volunteered to participate. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) responded to the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative by saying, "Breathing the air isn't optional, and therefore reducing the greenhouse gases in it shouldn't be either." Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are currently developing legislation that would set mandatory reductions.

Energy Legislation Too Heavy to Fly?
The long-awaited Senate debate on energy policy began at the end of February but was quickly shelved due to complications with election reform legislation and the possibility of swift passage of a campaign reform bill coming over from the House. The Democrat's comprehensive energy bill, which has been folded into S. 517, is expected back on the Senate floor in early March with over 1,000 amendments possible. The bill includes tax incentives for fuel efficiency, an increase in the CAFE standards, climate change provisions, and renewable energy mandates (plus a whole lot more, weighing in at over 500 pages). The bill also includes up to $10 billion in loan guarantees for construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) recently announced his support for a route that would parallel the Trans Alaska Pipeline System rather than go through Canada. The Democrats' focus on Alaskan natural gas is an attempt to shift focus away from opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for petroleum exploration, which remains the most contentious aspect of the energy debate.

Rumors have swirled around the Capitol that the two sides are considering a compromise that would involve swapping Republican support of higher CAFE standards for Democrat support of limited drilling in a portion of ANWR's coastal plain, but those rumors are unconfirmed. The House-passed bill, H.R. 4, includes a 2,000-acre limit on drilling, but the acreage can be spread out over the entire 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain. Democrats claim that they have the necessary votes to block any ANWR legislation.  However, Senate Republicans insist that the Democrats unwillingness to compromise will prevent attaining consensus on a national energy policy. Campaign issue, anyone? For background on the current debate, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy.html.

House Science Committee Considers R&D Budget Request
On February 13th, the House Science Committee held a hearing on the research and development (R&D) budget proposed by the Bush administration for FY 2003. Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) expressed concern that the request was out of balance with almost all the increase going to the National Institute of Health, up $3.9 billion, and the Department of Defense, up $5.4 billion. Boehlert stated that other federal agencies have a great deal to offer to the administration's biomedical and national security priorities.  The chair expressed concern about the transfers of EPA, NOAA, and USGS programs to NSF, expressing plans to investigate further. The committee heard testimony from John Marburger, the president's science advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology; Deputy Secretary of Commerce Samuel Bodman; NSF Director Rita Colwell; and DOE Chief Financial Officer Bruce Carnes.  An alert from the American Geophysical Union provides additional details on the hearing at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2002-06.msg

On February 28th, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards held a hearing on NOAA's Sea Grant program, one of the programs slated for transfer to NSF in the president's budget. Sea Grant is up for reauthorization, and the subcommittee looked both at the administration's transfer proposal and at a proposal to combine activities of the Sea Grant and Coastal Oceans programs within NOAA.  Panelists at the hearing, with the exception of NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher, were strongly against the idea of transferring Sea Grant to NSF due primarily to the unique setup of the program -- it uses 2 to 1 matching funds from states and has a large outreach and education component built into the research activities.  Panelists did show some interest and support for the idea of merging Sea Grant and the Coastal Oceans programs within NOAA.  More information on the subcommittee hearing, including testimony, is available at http://www.house.gov/science/welcome.htm. The day before that hearing, the House Resources Committee passed H.R. 3389, the National Sea Grant College Program Act, which authorizes steady increases for the program through 2008.

Summer Internship Application Deadline is March 15th
AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a twelve-week geoscience and public policy internship in Summer 2002. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their writing and Web publishing skills. Stipends for the summer interns are funded jointly by AGI and the AIPG Foundation. Applications must be postmarked by March 15, 2002. For more information, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html.

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 Margaret Baker, David Applegate, and AGI/AAPG Semester Intern Heather Golding.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, Greenwire, Department of Energy, Library of Congress, National Center for Science Education, USBudget.com, U.S. House of Representatives website, U.S. Senate website, Washington Post, White House website.

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

Posted March 1, 2002


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