Monthly Review: April 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.

Senate Passes Energy Bill, Next Stop House-Senate Conference
Yucca Mountain: House Panel Votes to Override Nevada Governor
Science at EPA Getting Mixed Signals, Fellowships Threatened
AAPG Testifies on Oil and Gas Assessment Methodology
Geoscientists Respond to Snub in EPA Proposed Rule
FCC Rule Inhibits Use of Ground-Penetrating Radar
UN Climate Panel Gets New Leader
Minerals Management Service Releases Next Five-Year Leasing Plan
AGI Provides Testimony in Support of NSF, USGS, DOE Programs
Geotimes Special Policy Issue Features EarthScope
AGI Selects New Congressional Science Fellow
New Material on Web Site

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Senate Passes Energy Bill, Next Stop House-Senate Conference
The Senate spent much of the past three months debating its version of comprehensive energy legislation (S. 517) before taking a final 88-11 vote on April 25th. The large number of supporting votes reflected a desire by both the Senate leadership and the White House to complete action and move to a House-Senate conference. The administration and congressional Republicans hope to use the conference to restore key provisions found in the House counterpart, H.R. 4. Senate conferees have already been announced and the House is expected to make its announcement in the first half of May. Unlike its House counterpart, which passed that chamber last August, the Senate energy bill does not include a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration. Instead, the bill calls for opening a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope of Alaska to the state's southern coast. The Senate bill contains $14 billion worth of tax incentives for energy efficiency and increased domestic energy production, heavily weighted toward renewable energy sources. The House bill, passed last August, includes $33 billion in tax breaks with a greater emphasis on incentives to increase production from more traditional energy sources. An AGI Special Update comparing the two pieces of legislation will be sent out in the first week of May.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy.html.

Yucca Mountain: House Panel Votes to Override Nevada Governor
On April 8th, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) submitted his Notice of Disapproval to Congress, signaling the state's official objection to the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository site. As provided by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Congress has 90 working days to override the governor's objection by passing a resolution approving the site.  The House Committee on Energy and Commerce responded quickly to the governor's disapproval, holding a hearing the following week to consider House Joint Resolution 87. Introduced by subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the resolution only needs a simple majority in both chambers of Congress to override Nevada's objection. At the hearing, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham emphasized that site selection was not a final step in repository development and would lead to additional studies to answer remaining questions about the repository. The General Accounting Office and Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board also provided testimony on the status of DOE site investigations. Both of Nevada's representatives and Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) testified against the resolution. A week later, the committee voted 41-6 in favor of the resolution, paving the way for a vote by the full House in early May. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/yucca.html.

Science at EPA Getting Mixed Signals, Fellowships Threatened
Congress has taken a strong interest in elevating the role of science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the agency's own interest is less certain. Last year, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced legislation, the Strengthening Science at the EPA Act (H.R. 64), that would establish a new Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology at the agency.  On April 30th, the House passed the bill by voice vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration.  In a House Science Committee press release, Ehlers states that he believes the bill "will be a big step forward in ensuring the scientific accountability of EPA decisions." Meanwhile, one of the few programs within EPA targeted specifically at environmental science is faced with elimination in the president's budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2003.  EPA did not request funding for the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship program, which funds graduate research in a range of disciplines. An AGI staff analysis suggests that nearly twenty percent of the 800 fellowships issued since the program's inception in 1995 have gone to projects in earth science-related disciplines. EPA budget documents state that "funding for EPA's STAR Fellowship Program was eliminated in FY 2003 as part of a larger effort to increase environmental science education programs at the National Science Foundation." But the NSF request did not specify funds for such fellowships. In the meantime, students who applied for the coming year all received letters from EPA stating that only existing fellowships would be funded and no new ones would be issued. The National Council for Science and the Environment is heading up a campaign to help protect these fellowships from elimination.  More information at http://cnie.org/NCSE/SciencePolicy/?FID=1682.

AAPG Testifies on Oil and Gas Assessment Methodology
At a hearing on April 18th, the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee addressed the methodology used to assess domestic oil and gas resources on public lands. The hearing was prompted by a RAND Corporation report: "Assessing Gas and Oil Resources in the Intermountain West: Review of Methods and Framework for a New Approach". RAND is the original "think tank" with much of its work funded by the federal government and particularly the military, but this particular study was commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation. The report criticizes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other agencies for using technically recoverable resources as the basis for reporting assessment results. Specifically, the RAND report criticizes such an approach for failing to fully account for economic factors controlling resource availability. Testifying on behalf of the report was Debra Knopman, Associate Director of RAND Science and Technology, who was one of the authors. She called for assessments to report economically "viable" resources. American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Secretary Charles J. Mankin told the House that "technically recoverable resource is the correct base to use when making policy decisions on competing use of federal lands. Although further analysis of this resource base is perfectly justified depending upon policy issues to be addressed, only the total resource base can be used to balance against other competing social and environmental uses or preservation of these lands." Mankin is Oklahoma State Geologist and Director of the Sarkeys Energy Center at the University of Oklahoma. Witness testimony can be found at http://www.house.gov/resources/107cong/energy/2002apr18/agenda.htm. The RAND report is at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1553.0/.

Geoscientists Respond to Snub in EPA Proposed Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed "paperwork reduction" regulations that recognize only Professional Engineers and Certified Hazardous Materials Managers for a number of responsibilities under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Those responsibilities include the authority to sign off on issues related to hazard waste generation and treatment-storage facilities, frequency of inspections of hazardous waste tanks, training requirements, paperwork approval, treatability studies, and facility contingency plans. During a public comment period for the proposed rule, AGI and several of its member societies submitted their concerns on the proposed regulations, arguing that EPA was disregarding certified and licensed professional geologists. In, the proposed regulations, EPA extends authority to Certified Hazardous Materials Managers, having previously recognized only Professional Engineers. The original proposal announcement was issued in the Federal Register on January 17, 2002 (Vol. 67, No. 12).

FCC Rule Inhibits Use of Ground-Penetrating Radar
Geophysicists are up in arms over a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would essentially eliminate most commercial applications of ground-penetrating radar (GPR), a widely used technology for imaging buried objects.  According to an FCC press release, GPR would be limited to frequencies below 960 MHz and between 3.1 to 10.6 GHz, and its use in those ranges would be "restricted to law enforcement, fire and rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies."  Under the rule, consulting companies and many other private-sector geophysicists would not be qualified users of GPR instrumentation. Moreover, opponents of the ruling argue that numerous GPR applications need the prohibited frequencies to properly image objects such as conduits beneath concrete runways. GPR proponents also argue that the FCC ruling jeopardizes the use of this technology for safety purposes such as identifying buried power and gas lines. The principal driver for the FCC action appears to be concern from the Department of Defense that GPR could interfere with military wireless Global Positioning System units. Complicating matters is FCC's view that the new rule is in fact a relaxation of existing rules, implying that many current uses of GPR -- many of them on behalf of the federal government -- are already illegal. A number of groups, including several AGI member societies, are working to challenge the FCC ruling. Additional information on their efforts can be found at http://www.g-p-r.com and http://www.radar-solutions.com. The FCC press release is at http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/News_Releases/2002/nret0203.html.

IPCC Gets New Leader
Marking a transition point for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group has elected the current IPCC Vice Chair, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India, as the new Chairman. Pachauri replaces Dr. Robert Watson of the World Bank, who was seeking a third term but was opposed by the Bush Administration. A former Clinton White House official, Watson oversaw the IPCC's Third Assessment Report. The United Nations Environment Programme established IPCC in 1988 "to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change." Unlike Watson, Pachauri is not an atmospheric scientist; his area of expertise is economics and technology.  He will chair the group as it prepares for the fourth assessment on climate change, which is expected to be released in 2007. The IPCC press release can be found at http://www.ipcc.ch/press/pr20042002.htm.

Minerals Management Service Releases Next Five-Year Leasing Plan
The Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) announced in the April 19th Federal Register that it has issued a proposed final five-year program for outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas leases.  MMS issued its draft plan last October, along with a draft Environmental Impact Statement.  The plan would schedule 20 leases in eight OCS regions over the next five years.  According to the MMS press release, the only change made in the final proposal is one that would effect two lease sales in the Chukchi Sea/Hope Basin area (off the northwestern edge of Alaska) that would be designated as "special" lease sales. Under this type of sale, MMS would issue a request of interest for each year of the 5-year plan. If industry expressed an interest, then MMS would continue with the normal leasing process; otherwise, if no interest was expressed, then the sale process would end. MMS submitted the plan to Congress and the White House, setting the stage for Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to finalize the plan and put it into effect starting on July 1, 2002.  More at http://www.mms.gov/5-year/.

AGI Provides Testimony in Support of NSF, USGS, DOE Programs
On April 16th, the American Geological Institute (AGI) provided both oral and written testimony in support of the National Science Foundation's geoscience programs to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA, HUD & Independent Agencies. Like earlier testimony submitted to the subcommittee's Senate counterpart, the testimony expresses concern over the president's requested program transfers and calls for enhanced support for core programs in the Geosciences Directorate. The testimony also calls for expansion of the Major Research Equipment account to accommodate both existing projects and the requested new starts, including the EarthScope initiative (which is featured in the April issue of Geotimes at http://www.geotimes.org/april02).

On April 4th, AGI provided written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies in support of budgets for the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development program, and other geoscience-related programs within the subcommittee's jurisdiction. The testimony urges the subcommittee to reject proposed cuts to these programs. The text of these  statements is on the AGI web site at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/testimon.html.

AGI Selects New Congressional Science Fellow
AGI is pleased to announce the selection of Larry Kennedy as the 2002-2003 AGI Congressional Science Fellow. He will succeed current fellow David Curtiss, who is serving on the staff of Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK), chairman of the House Republican Conference. Kennedy is currently pursuing a masters degree in hydrology at the University of Nevada, Reno following a 15-year career in mineral exploration. Prior to entering the mining industry, he received a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Western Ontario and a B.A. in earth science from Wesleyan University. Kennedy will join fellows from GSA, AGU, SSSA, and more than twenty other science and engineering societies for an orientation session in September followed by placement in the office of a representative, senator, or congressional committee for the following year. The AGI fellowship is supported by a generous grant from the AGI Foundation. More on the fellowship at http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/csf.html. The May 2002 issue of Geotimes includes a column by David Curtiss on "Becoming a Standard Bearer"; see http://www.geotimes.org/may02/scene.html.

Geotimes Special Policy Issue Features EarthScope
The April 2002 issue of Geotimes is the seventh annual special geoscience and public policy issue. The cover story describes the EarthScope initiative, the first-ever earth science project to be requested as part of the National Science Foundation's Major Research Equipment account. A related Political Scene column addresses the challenge faced by the geoscience community in turning the president's budget request for EarthScope into actual appropriations. The second feature focused on the role of geology on Native American lands, particularly the role of the USGS. The Comment is by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chairman of the House Science Committee. Most of these articles can be found on the web at http://www.geotimes.org/april02/.

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

Sources: E&E News, Environmental and Engineering Geophysical Society, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Radar Solutions, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, House Resources Committee, House Science Committee.

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

Posted May 3, 2002


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