Monthly Review: March 2000


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.

High Oil Prices Drive Legislation in Congress
Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Growing
House Passes Budget Resolution, Boosts Science
Controversial Asbestos Legislation Passes House Judiciary Committee
House Passes Nuclear Waste Legislation, Falls Short of Veto-Proof Majority
Senate Moves Ahead on Education Bill
New Poll Shows Americans Favor Teaching of Evolution in Science Classrooms
Norwegian Government Falls Over Climate Change Issue
AASG Awards Pick and Gavel Awards to Rep. Gibbons, NSF Director Colwell
AGI Participates in USGS Customer Listening Session
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

********************

High Oil Prices Drive Legislation in Congress
What a difference a year makes! Last March, Congress was considering measures to help the domestic oil industry survive record low prices. Talk has again turned to the importance of domestic production but now the reason is high prices due to OPEC cutbacks. While most members of Congress agree that something must be done about the recent rise in oil prices, they cannot seem to agree on an appropriate solution. Legislation has been introduced to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, repeal a portion or all of the federal gasoline tax, increase investment in renewable energy and alternative fuels, and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska and other federal lands for petroleum exploration. All of the proposals have met with opposition and face uncertain futures. On March 27th, OPEC ministers did agree to increase production, but analysts say that gasoline prices will stay high through the peak summer driving months. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/oil_price.html.
 

Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Growing
Early this month, AGI sent out an alert encouraging member society members to contact their senators and ask them to become charter members of the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus. The alert included a letter sent by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and John Edwards (D-NC), who co-chair this informal organization of members of Congress focused on finding ways to better prepare for and help mitigate the costs of natural disasters. For over a year, AGI has been working with member societies AGU, the Geo-Institute of ASCE, and the Seismological Society of America along with many other organizations to establish such a caucus in order to build lasting support for hazard mitigation as a public value. In order to make this caucus a success, geoscientists should contact their senators and encourage them to join. Five senators have already signed up, but many more are needed. Organizers also are looking for co-chairs in the House to make the caucus bicameral. The AGI alert can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/caucus_alert0300.html.

House Passes Budget Resolution, Boosts Science
In 1997, Congress and the White House enacted strict caps on future discretionary spending (all non-mandatory spending that includes nearly all funding for science-related programs) in order to balance the government's books. Last year, the final numbers for discretionary spending overshot the caps by nearly $55 billion due to "emergency" spending for items such as the highly unexpected 2000 census. The caps are even tighter for FY 2001 -- in order to meet them, Congress and the Administration would have to make deep cuts.  As a result, most are declaring the budget caps a moot issue given that the continuing economic boom has already balanced the budget.  As part of his budget request, President Clinton proposed new spending caps that would add nearly $70 billion over the 1997 agreement level.

Now it is Congress' turn, and both houses are currently working on their own budget resolutions, which will determine the amount of money that the Appropriations Committees will have to divvy up. On March 24th, the House passed its budget resolution on a party-line 211-207 vote. The final version included an amendment that boosted the budget for basic research by $1 billion over FY 2000 level, which bodes well for agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) sought to rally support in the House for increased spending on science and technology by circulating a "Dear Colleague Letter."  AGU released an alert on the budget resolution and Ehlers's letter at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2000-08.msg.  The Senate budget resolution is still bottled up in committee as dissension within the majority party over priorities has slowed progress to a crawl.

Controversial Asbestos Legislation Passes House Judiciary Committee
The Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act of 1999, H.R. 1283, narrowly made it past the House Judiciary Committee on March 16th.  The bill, which was introduced by Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL), is designed to ease the burden that the massive amount of asbestos lawsuits puts on the court system by creating a new federal agency that would try to resolve the claims before they reach the courtroom. Supporters claim that the legislation would streamline a process that threatens to overwhelm the federal courts.  Opponents of the bill argue that it would make things worse for everyone except those being sued, because it would make it easier for the companies to limit their liabilities by limiting the amount that individual victims could receive.  Many also feel that the medical standards that the bill sets are too restrictive. The Senate version of the bill, S. 758, is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Nuclear Waste Legislation, Falls Short of Veto-Proof Majority
On March 22nd, the House of Representatives voted 253-167 in favor of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2000 (S. 1287), Senate-passed legislation to overhaul the nation's high-level nuclear waste disposal efforts. The bill is now cleared for the President, who has indicated that he will veto it. As with the Senate vote of 64-34, the tally was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Although Congress could try to recraft the bill, further action in the 106th Congress appears unlikely. EENews reported that aides to bill sponsor Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said they "were done trying" with the Clinton Administration. Nevada's delegation and environmental groups hailed the vote as a victory. The vote margin was considerably closer than in the 105th Congress when the House voted 307-120 in favor of an earlier nuclear waste program overhaul bill, H.R. 1020. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/yucca106.html.

Senate Moves Ahead on Education Bill
As reported in February, AGI joined forces with other science, engineering and math societies to request that Congress maintain federal support for science and math educator's professional development. On March 9th, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the Education Opportunities Act, S. 2, without including language specifically for math and science educators. Committee Chairman James Jeffords (R-VT) introduced S. 2 as the majority's version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization legislation.  During the three days of meetings, amendments supported by the committee minority were quickly voted down along party lines, including an amendment proposed by Ranking Member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) that would reinstate language aimed at professional development for math and science educators. More information on ESEA is available on AGI's Update on Science Education at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ike106.html.

New Poll Shows Americans Favor Teaching of Evolution in Science Classrooms
A recent poll commissioned by the People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) reports that 83% of Americans think that evolution should be taught in public school science classes.  About 70% of Americans feel that the Bible and evolutionary theory go hand in hand, which contrasts with the contention of biblical literalists who argue that the two are in conflict. This poll differs from previously conducted polls because it focuses solely on the evolution/creation issue.  The poll shows that 60% of Americans reject the Kansas State Board of Education's 1999 decision to take evolution out of state science standards.  The results of the poll also indicated that there is broad agreement that creationist beliefs should be acknowledged, but not taught as a science, and that the presentation of evolution and creationism in the classroom should follow national standards.  A PDF version of the poll is available at:  http://www.pfaw.org/issues/education/creationism-poll.pdf.

Norwegian Government Falls Over Climate Change Issue
On March 9th, Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Prime Minister of Norway, resigned in protest of a parliamentary vote to build several new gas-fired power plants. According to Environment News Service, the resignation marks the first government breakup that has ever resulted from issues related to global warming. Although most of Norway's electricity is currently produced from hydro-electric dams, there has been recent resistance to the construction of more dams because of their effect on the landscape.  While Bondevik's government wanted to put off building power plants until cleaner gas-burning technology was developed, his opposition felt that they must come up with a way to meet the growing demand for electricity. More on climate change issues at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/climate.html.

AASG Awards Pick and Gavel Awards to Rep. Gibbons, NSF Director Colwell
On March 14th, the Association of American State Geologists presented its second annual Pick and Gavel awards to Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV), the only geoscientist in Congress, and NSF Director Rita Colwell. The award was established last year to recognize leaders who have made major contributions to the advancement of the geosciences. Both recipients were on hand at the reception and dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC to receive their awards - a plaque bearing a large orpiment specimen from a Nevada gold mine on its base.

AGI Participates in USGS Customer Listening Session
On March 22nd and 23rd, the U.S. Geological Survey held a "Conversation with Customers" during which stakeholders could provide input on the agency's Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 budget request. The stated purpose was "looking at opportunities for growing our programs in new or enhanced ways...build[ing] on the strengths of what has been successful and what we do well, while at the same time seeking out the science challenges of tomorrow." AGI's government affairs staff spoke on the importance of developing initiatives that conform to the congressional mandate that the agency focus on its core capabilities. With congressional interest in natural hazards running high, USGS has a great opportunity to expand its efforts in that sector. AGI staff also spoke on the value of the geologic mapping program, resource assessments, and the need to improve awareness in the land management agencies of the valuable information that USGS geoscientists can provide to support decisionmaking.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
April 2 GAP Advisory Cmte Mtg. Alexandria VA 
April 3 GSA Geology & Public Policy Cmte Mtg. Washington DC
April 4-5 SET Congressional Visits Day Washington DC 
April 11-13 AAAS Science Policy Colloquium  Washington DC 
April 16-18 AAPG Annual Convention  New Orleans LA 
May 1-2 AIPG Fly-In Washington DC
May 8 Council of Science Editors Mtg San Antonio TX
May 30-June 3 AGU Spring Meeting 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 since the last monthly update:



Monthly review prepared by David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott.

Sources: EENews, Environment News Service, Library of Congress, People for the American Way, USGS.

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

Posted March 31, 2000


  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Geoscience
 |
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events


agi logo

© 2014. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to: webmaster@agiweb.org.
Privacy Policy