Monthly Review: May 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.

Jeffords Leaves Republicans, Throws Senate Control to Democrats
Special Update: Bush Administration Releases National Energy Policy
Bush Energy Plan: A Familiar Ring?
Geoscientists Visit Capitol Hill
AAPG Testifies at Outer Continental Shelf Field Hearing
Interior Department Advisory Board Recommends Lifting OCS Moratoria
Roadless Rule Hits Speed Bump
Budget Boost for NSF Looks Promising
Director of Smithsonian Natural History Museum Resigns
Evolution Issues in Michigan, Louisiana, Pennsylvania
AGU Educates Members on Intelligent Design Creationism
Geoscience and Public Policy Interns: Hail and Farewell
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Jeffords Leaves Republicans, Throws Senate Control to Democrats
Citing the political equivalent of irreconcilable differences with the conservative leadership of the Republican party, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont announced that he was becoming an independent supporting Democrat leadership. His defection signals the end of the Senate's 50-50 split under which the Republicans maintained control because of the Constitution's provision for the Vice President to break tie votes. At the start of the current session, Republicans had agreed to some power sharing such as equal Democratic and Republican committee staffing and shared ability to move legislation out of committee on a tie vote. It remains unclear what changes the Democrats will make to staffing levels and procedural arrangements. A subsequent AGI special update will discuss implications of the power shift and provide information on new Democratic committee chairs.

Special Update: Bush Administration Releases National Energy Policy
As reported in an AGI special update on May 19th, President Bush released a comprehensive national energy policy developed by a task force headed by Vice President Cheney.  The bulk of the task force's 105 recommendations can be carried out by presidential order and federal agency actions, but 20 require congressional approval. Both the House and Senate are moving forward to develop legislation incorporating the president's proposals, although the fast-track approach planned by Senate Republicans prior to Jeffords' defection will be slowed considerably by the Democratic leadership. The Cheney report addresses both energy supply and demand, but the most controversial provisions focus on increasing domestic supply of petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric energy. The special update is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy_update0501.html.

Bush Energy Plan: A Familiar Ring?
The following news note appeared in the May 1991 issue of Geotimes: "The administration's National Energy Strategy was announced by President Bush Feb. 20. The Department of Energy, who organized the plan, and the White House consider the plan a 'comprehensive and balanced strategy for an energy future that is secure, efficient and environmentally sound.' The plan is consistent with the administration's policy of relying on market forces. Two aspects of the plan are emerging as the hottest political issues: the strategy calls for oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and it does not require car manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles. Some consider the strategy a good framework. Others think it's too weak in promoting conservation, efficiency improvements, and alternative fuels." The more things change....

Geoscientists Visit Capitol Hill
Over 200 scientists and engineers, including close to 20 earth scientists, converged on Capitol Hill at the beginning of May as part of the sixth annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD) event. The scientists sent a resounding message to Congress in support of strengthening federal investment in research. Most participants spent May 1st attending briefings given by key federal agency officials and Hill staff. During a Capitol Hill reception that evening, the George E. Brown Jr. Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership Award was given to Senators Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) for their efforts to double the National Science Foundation's funding over the next five years. During CVD, members of ten AGI member societies visited the offices of 13 senators and 18 representatives as well as several Appropriations subcommittee offices to discuss the importance of federal funding for geoscience research, particular for those programs facing budgetary reductions in the president's request. Briefing materials are available from the CVD website at http://www.agiweb.org/cvd.

The following week, the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) held its annual Washington Fly-In. AIPG's leadership and members visited congressional offices and federal agencies to discuss issues of concern. As part of the event, AIPG President (and New York State Geologist) Robert Fakundiny invited other geoscience society presidents to accompany him on a visit with House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). He was joined by AAPG President Robbie Gries, GSA President Sharon Mosher, AASG President Jon Price, AGI President-Elect Steven Stanley, and Chip Watts representing AEG.

AAPG Testifies at Outer Continental Shelf Field Hearing
For the third time this spring, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) was asked to testify on energy issues before a House committee. Dr. Ben Hare, Chairman of AAPG's Committee on Resource Evaluation, testified at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held in New Orleans on May 14th.  The field hearing provided an opportunity for witnesses to discuss the role of the outer continental shelf (OCS) in domestic natural gas production.  Witnesses commented not only on the current OCS program but also the question of access to OCS leases (a series of moratoria have kept much of the nation's OCS closed to lease sales) and the system that the federal government uses to collect royalties from these leases. Additional background on the hearing is available at http://www.house.gov/resources/107cong/energy/2001may14/agenda2001_0514.htm. The full text of Hare's testimony is available at http://www.aapg.org/business/testimonies/05142001_house_hare.html.

Interior Department Advisory Board Recommends Lifting OCS Moratoria
In related news, the Interior Department's OCS Policy Committee passed a resolution urging the Secretary of the Interior to consider lifting existing moratoria for five offshore areas off California, Florida, North Carolina, and New England. The external advisory committee, which is chaired by Alabama State Geologist Don Oltz, passed the resolution at a meeting on May 24th. As reported in Greenwire, the committee's rationale for their recommendation was the need to meet the nation's growing demand for natural gas. The resolution states that the Minerals Management Service, "in consultation with industry and affected states, should identify the five top geologic plays in the moratoria areas, and if possible, the most prospective areas for natural gas in the plays that industry would likely explore if allowed. These five areas would provide the basis for a pilot to see if limited activity...is possible in the moratoria areas."

Budget Boost for NSF Looks Promising
As reported by the American Institute of Physics, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies, which has jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation's budget, is supportive of a fiscal year (FY) 2002 budget well above the requested 1.3% increase in the president's proposal.  At a hearing, Chairman James Walsh (R-NY) criticized several aspects of the budget request, including the low funding for the Major Research Equipment line item.  Walsh discussed with NSF Director Rita Colwell the need to re-balance the budget for research and development as well as the need to look at what costs, if any, cross-cutting initiatives have on core program support.  While most subcommittee members voiced support for boosting NSF's budget, a few members were less enthusiastic.  More at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2001/066.html.

Roadless Rule Hits Speed Bump
After delaying implementation of the Clinton Administration's Roadless Initiative to allow time for further review, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced on May 4th that the rule will proceed.  In a press release, Veneman stated that the agency will provide amendments in the coming weeks to ensure local input and to provide more flexibility for communities.  While the Administration has agreed to uphold the rule, several lawsuits have been filed to impede the implementation of it on the grounds that the rulemaking process lacked the public input required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  On May 10th, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge released his decision to halt the roadless rule.  It is not clear at this point if the Department of Justice will appeal the case. Chances are that any proposed amendments by the administration will work to mediate issues raised in Lodge's ruling.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/roadless.html.

Director of Smithsonian Natural History Museum Resigns
Robert Fri, head of the National Museum of Natural History, announced his intention to resign due to the reorganization of scientific research priorities at the Smithsonian Institution.  This announcement comes in response to Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small's plan to refocus the institution's research efforts on select priorities in science, and more specifically, to combine the administrative duties of individual research groups and collections into several administrative centers.  Under the new plan, museum directors would be far less involved in research operations, and instead scientific staff would report to Smithsonian Undersecretary J. Dennis O'Connor. Fri, who has run the museum located on the National Mall for the past five years, stated: "The upcoming reorganization of the science units of the Smithsonian will substantially affect the National Museum of Natural History...  I do not feel I that I can make that commitment [to the reorganization] enthusiastically."  During Fri's time as Director, the museum has seen a major overhaul of the Geology, Gems, and Minerals exhibit, the Rotunda lobby was refurbished, and a new Imax movie theater was constructed.  The museum had 9 million visitors last year, more than any other museum in the world.

Evolution at Issue in Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania
Last month's review reported on Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution 74, which condemned Darwinism for its links to racism and Adolf Hitler. After passing the House Education Committee on May 1st, the measure was amended on the House floor by a 65-28 vote, removing all mention of Darwinism and converting the resolution into simply a condemnation of racism. The resulting measure passed both the Louisiana House and Senate. The bill's original sponsor, Rep. Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge), vowed to revisit the issue. Also this month, legislation (House Bill 4705) was introduced in Michigan to revise science curriculum standards to include the teaching of intelligent design theory. The bill is itself a revision of an earlier bill (HB 4382), which had emphasized that evolution and natural selection were "unproven theories." Both bills were introduced by the chair of the House Education Committee and three committee members. In Pennsylvania, the House Education Committee is expected to vote shortly on new science and technology education standards that encourage the teaching of creationist views in science classes. In May, AGI alerted geoscience department heads in Pennsylvania about the situation, encouraging them to work with the state department of education and state legislators to support strong science standards. For more information, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolution.html and the National Center for Science Education website http://www.ncseweb.org.

AGU Holds Session on Intelligent Design Creationism
On May 31st, the American Geophysical Union held a session at its Spring Meeting in Boston to inform geoscientists about new approaches being taken to oppose the teaching of evolution in the nation's public schools. Over 150 scientists attended the session, which provided a range of perspectives both from within and outside the geosciences. Speakers included biologist Ken Miller of Brown University (author of "Finding Darwin's God"), philosopher Robert Pennock of Michigan State University (author of "Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism"), theologian Jim Miller of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, astrophysicist Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, geologist Wilf Elders of the University of California at Riverside, and educator Judy Scotchmoor of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. Material from their presentations should be available on the AGU website in the near future.

Geoscience and Public Policy Interns: Hail and Farewell
Over the past three months, AGI's Government Affairs Program has benefited from the hard work of Mary Patterson, who served as an AGI-AAPG semester intern. Mary has returned to the University of Nevada at Reno to finish her undergraduate degree in geology. AGI acknowledges the generous support of AAPG that makes the semester internships possible. In late May, we welcomed three AGI-AIPG summer interns: Chris Eisinger, a graduate student in volcanology at Arizona State University; Caetlin Ofiesh, who just graduated from Amherst College in geology; and Michelle Williams, a graduate student in sedimentology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The summer internships are supported by a generous grant from the AIPG Foundation. Among their many duties, interns attend congressional hearings and agency meetings, research geoscience policy issues, and maintain the program's website. For more information on internship opportunities, see http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
June 11   Utah Geological Society   Salt Lake City UT
June 13   CNSF Congressional Exhibition   Washington DC
June 24-28   GSA/GSL Meeting   Edinburgh UK
July 15-17   Natural Hazards Workshop   Boulder CO
July 18-20   CESSE Meeting   Houston TX

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/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Chris Eisinger.

Sources: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, EENews, Greenwire, National Center for Science Education.

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

Posted June 6, 2001


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