Monthly Review: May 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.

House Slashes President's Request for NSF, USGS
Senate Leadership Introduces National Energy Security Act
McCain, Others Look Into Climate Change Issue
Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing
Valles Caldera Acquisition Bill on the Move
Clinton Signs Methane Hydrate Bill into Law
President Announces End to GPS Scrambling
Geotimes Special Issue Focuses on USGS Science
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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House Slashes President's Request for NSF, USGS

The initial results from the fiscal year (FY) 2001 spending process in the House have been disappointing. Low allocations to key House Appropriations subcommittees are forcing them to provide funding levels well below the President's request. An AGI e-mail alert on May 21st reported that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) received $816.7 million, a $3.3 million increase over FY 2000 levels but nearly $80 million less than requested by the president. The full House Appropriations Committee passed the bill on May 25th. A copy of the AGI alert is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/approps_alert0500.html.

On May 23rd, the House VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee passed its spending bill. The National Science Foundation (NSF) had requested a 17% increase to $4.6 billion, but the House bill would provide just over $4 billion, a 4.3% increase over FY 2000. The Geoscience Directorate would receive $523.8 million, a decrease of $59.2 million from the budget request. Particularly hard hit was the NSF Major Research Equipment (MRE) account, down 45% from the president's request of $139 million to $76.6 million, which is 18% below the FY 2000 allocation. Within that account, the subcommittee provided zero funding for EarthScope, a $17.4 million earth sciences initiative, or any of the new initiatives proposed by the president. The bill did provide $12.5 million in MRE funding for HIAPER, an atmospheric-science airplane that was funded in last year's bill but not included in the president's request.

The House bill would fund most Environmental Protection Agency programs at the FY 2000 levels, including several climate change programs. EPA Research is increased $5 million over FY 2000, bringing FY 2001 funding to $650 million, $24 million below the President's request. Funding for NASA would total $13.7 billion, nearly $321 million below the budget request and $112 million over FY 2000 levels.  More information on geoscience appropriations is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2001.html.

Senate Leadership Introduces National Energy Security Act
On May 16th, the Republican leadership in the Senate unveiled the National Energy Security Act, S. 2557. The bill aims to reduce American dependence on foreign oil to 50% by 2010 through a series of measures that would spur research and encourage domestic energy production. Bill provisions include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to petroleum exploration, creating a heating oil reserve in the northeastern US, conducting research on how to improve the efficiency of coal burning power plants, encouraging more research and development of natural gas, improving the oil and gas leasing program on federal lands, speeding up the relicensing process for hydroelectric and nuclear power facilities, tax incentives to encourage marginal well preservation, operating loss carrybacks for independent oil and gas producers, and extending tax credits to producers of power from renewable energy sources. S. 2557 was drafted by a task force of 10 Republican senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Despite being drafted by the Republican leadership, the task-force members believe that the bill can become a bipartisan effort. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to mark up the bill by mid-June, but Lott also has included provisions that would allow the bill to by-pass the committee process and go directly to the Senate floor for debate. More information on this bill and other oil-price issues is available at AGI's Summary on Congressional Response to Rising Oil Prices at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/oil_price.html.

McCain, Others Look Into Climate Change Issue
The many facets of the climate change debate were on display this month on Capitol Hill in hearings, briefings, and legislation. On May 17th, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) held a hearing on the scientific facts behind global climate change. In his opening statement, McCain noted that he held the hearing as part of a promise that he made during his presidential campaign.  He said that at "town-hall meeting after town-hall meeting," younger Americans asked him what his plan was to stop global warming.  McCain admitted that he and many of his congressional colleagues are not sufficiently informed to discuss this topic.

On May 4th, the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Production and Price Competitiveness held a hearing on legislation authorizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct research on storing carbon in soils and how agriculture might help solve the climate change problem. The legislation was introduced by subcommittee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who noted "agriculture may have the ability to store 200 million tons of carbon annually or the equivalent of 307 million tons of coal." The hearing reflected increased interest by farm-state senators in the role that agricultural practices can play in mitigating the potential impacts of climate change. On May 25th, the House and Senate passed a $15 billion crop insurance reform bill that includes $15 million for ag-based carbon sequestration research. Links to the hearings and additional information can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/climate.html.

Striking a very different note, the Cooler Heads Coalition held a Capitol Hill briefing on May 30th titled "What's Wrong with U.N. Climate Science? An Independent Scientific Review of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report."  Led by Fred Singer, President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, the briefing included several panels of scientists who discussed problems with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report that is currently under review.  One of their principal criticisms was that the draft report's 7-page summary for policy makers does not fairly represent the information contained in the 1000-page report. More information on the IPCC report and the review process is available at http://www.gcrio.org/ipccform/.

Evolution Opponents Hold Congressional Briefing
As reported in an AGI e-mail special update, supporters of intelligent design theory brought their message to Capitol Hill with a three-hour briefing focused on the scientific evidence for the origin and development of life and the universe as the work of an intelligent designer. The speakers presented their version of the scientific debate between Darwinian evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. Speakers also addressed the social, moral, and political consequences of Darwinism. Sponsored by the Discovery Institute, the briefing was hosted by the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, and co-sponsors included Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), expected to be the next chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and two members of the House Science Committee. The briefing took place as Congress debates legislation to overhaul federal K-12 education programs. An update on recent developments in the creation-evolution controversy can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/evolution.html and a copy of the email alert on the briefing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/id_update.html.

Valles Caldera Acquisition Bill on the Move
The federal government is poised to purchase the Valles Caldera -- a resurgent volcanic caldera in north-central New Mexico that is mostly within the privately held Baca Ranch -- but legislation must be passed before a June 30th deadline or the deal is off. Last fall's omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2000 included $101 million for the Baca contingent upon passage of legislation authorizing the purchase. To that end, Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 1892, the Valles Caldera Preservation & Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, authorizing the acquisition of the Baca and providing "for an effective land and wildlife management program for this resource" by the US Forest Service. Domenici and Bingaman have been working to move S. 1892 through Congress before the deal's already extended deadline.  The Senate passed the bill on April 13th by unanimous consent, then sent it to the House for consideration.  On May 24th, the House Committee on Resources marked up S. 1892 and passed it by voice vote out of committee. The remaining obstacle is an as-yet-unscheduled vote by the full House.  More information on the acquisition of the Baca ranch is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/baca.html.

Clinton Signs Methane Hydrate Bill into Law
President Clinton signed the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act into law on May 2nd.  Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), sponsor of the bill, praised the passage of the bill as being a long-term solution for domestic energy needs. "Harnessing the gas trapped in methane hydrates will secure a plentiful source of energy for our nation's future," said Doyle. "We must develop clean-burning energy sources to allow our air and environment to be healthy and vibrant and hydrate technology has an important role to play in these efforts also." The act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to award grants or contracts to conduct gas hydrate research and development, requires a competitive merit-review process for grants, limits administrative expenses to not more than five percent, and requires a National Research Council report of the program's progress and recommendations for future research needs.  More information on methane hydrates is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ch4106.html.

President Announces End to GPS Scrambling
On May 1st, President Clinton announced that the government would stop the intentional degradation - referred to as selective availability - of the Global Positioning System (GPS) signals available to the public. The U.S. Department of Defense developed and launched the GPS satellites in the 1970s as a military tool for determining positions on Earth's surface. Fearing potential U.S. enemies could use the system to target missiles, the military degraded the signals so that a single GPS receiver could only measure a given position to within 100 meters. With Selective Availability shut off, a receiver could potentially measure a position to within 10 meters. Earth scientists are increasingly using GPS for a range of data collection, from measuring displacement of Earth's crust over time to quantifying water vapor by the speed at which the signals travel through the atmosphere.  A Geotimes article on this topic is available at http://www.geotimes.org/may00/gps.html.

Geotimes Special Issue Focuses on USGS Science
The June issue of Geotimes provides some snapshots of the wide range of earth-science research going on at the USGS, including the growing connections between geologists, hydrologists, and biologists. Articles focus on geologic mapping, water quality, world petroleum reserves, and coastal issues. A Comment by USGS Director Chip Groat puts these research initiatives into the broader context of the survey's mission. Selected articles and Groat's Comment are available at http://www.geotimes.org, which also includes a secure, on-line subscription form. If you have not seen Geotimes lately, please take a look at AGI's newsmagazine of the earth sciences. Improved content and design in full color make it easier than ever to read.  Shameless plug? You bet! So check it out!

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
May 30-June 3 AGU Spring Meeting Washington DC
June 17-20 AASG Annual Meeting St. Louis MO
June 21 Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Event  Washington DC
July 8-11 Natural Hazards Workshop Boulder CO
July 12-15 CESSE Meeting New York NY

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

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, Greenwire, Library of Congress.

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

Posted June 3, 2000; Technical Correction June 16, 2000


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