Monthly Review: May 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.

House Vote Favors Yucca Mountain Repository, Senate Hears Testimony
Representatives Push for NSF Budget Doubling
Energy Conference Awaits Naming of House Members
USGS Re-Assesses NPRA Resource Potential
Court and Congress Reject New Definition of "Fill Material"
Bush Administration Agrees to Buy Back Florida Oil Leases
Federal Agencies Release Data Quality Guidelines
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

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House Vote Favors Yucca Mountain Repository, Senate Hears Testimony
On May 8th, the full House of Representatives voted 306-117 in favor of House Joint Resolution 87, a measure to override Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn's (R) formal objection to the siting of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.  The resolution was then passed on to the Senate where a much closer vote is expected. Guinn issued his objection on April 8th. Under the terms of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Congress has 90 working days to override the governor's objection with simple majority votes in both chambers, not subject to filibuster in the Senate, which has until July 25 to pass its version of the override resolution. The Senate process began with a series of three hearings held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 16th, 22nd, and 23rd. Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) focused the hearings on hazards associated with transportation of the waste, an issue that has become the principal rallying point for opposition to the repository. The committee heard from Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and from the project's regulators and federal oversight bodies. Non-federal witnesses testified on radiation exposure and threats to waste transportation, including vulnerability of waste shipments to terrorist attacks. These witnesses expressed great concern about the safety of moving nuclear waste and suggested that a more organized and detailed transportation plan be presented before allowing the site evaluation process to move farther along. On June 5th, the committee voted on Senate Joint Resolution 34 by a 13-10 margin. Nine Democrats were joined by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) in opposition.  If the resolution passes in the Senate, Congress will have approved the site selection, and DOE will have 90 days to submit a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/yucca.html. Witness statements are available at http://energy.senate.gov/cfdocs/hearings.cfm?id=5#hearing.

Representatives Push for NSF Budget Doubling
As reported in a May 15th Action Alert, a bipartisan group of representatives are pushing to put the National Science Foundation (NSF) on track to double its budget over five years.  A "Dear Colleague" letter making this case was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on May 28th. The letter was sponsored by Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Ralph Hall (D-TX), Constance Morella (R-MD) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). In addition to those six, 126 of their colleagues also signed the letter.  The group seeks a 15% increase for NSF in fiscal year (FY) 2003. Such an increase would make it possible for Congress to fund the EarthScope initiative and build other key geoscience programs.

The letter to appropriators is part of a broader effort by the House Science Committee to support a five-year doubling of NSF's budget. The chairman of the committee's Research Subcommittee, Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI), introduced the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (H.R. 4664) at a well-attended press conference on May 7th. The bill would authorize increases for the next three years that track with a five-year doubling. Such funding, of course, would be contingent upon congressional appropriators following through with the actual dollars, but passage of the bill would put Congress on record in support of this goal. The full House passed the bill on June 5th by a 397-25 margin, and the Senate has already begun the process of developing its own reauthorization bill.  These efforts dovetail with the recommendations of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), to which AGI and several of its Member Societies belong. More at, http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/nsfreauth.html and at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/nsf_alert0502.html.

Energy Conference Awaits Naming of House Members
A May 8th Special Update provided a comparison of the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of comprehensive energy legislation. The Senate passed its version of H.R. 4 late in April, and the House passed its version the previous August.  The Senate members of the House-Senate Conference Committee were named at the beginning of May, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has not yet announced the House conferees. It has already been agreed that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will serve as chairman of the conference. The Senate lineup includes eight Democrats, eight Republicans, and one Independent (Sen. Jim Jeffords, VT), which will favor the Senate majority on most matters but not on the key issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) supports opening the refuge for oil exploration as do all the Republicans. The conference is expected to get under way in June and complete action later this summer. It remains unclear whether any conference agreement can achieve House and Senate passage before the end of the session. The special update is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy_update0502.html.

USGS Re-Assesses NPRA Resource Potential
On May 16th, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released its re-assessment of the undiscovered oil and natural gas resources within the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA). The reserve occupies 23 million acres on the western part of the North Slope along Alaska's arctic coast. The Survey's last NPRA assessment was completed in 1980, reporting that the technically recoverable oil on federal lands in the area totaled between 0.3 and 5.4 billion barrels of oil (BBO). In the new assessment, those numbers (which represent the 95% and 5% probability, respectively) jump to 5.9 and 13.2 billion barrels. The new assessment also includes an economic analysis, concluding that between 1.3 and 5.6 BBO are economically recoverable at market prices between $22 and $30 per barrel. The USGS also estimates that there are between 39.1 and 83.2 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas within NPRA. The economic viability of these resources, however, depends on developing the capacity to transport them to markets. According to the fact sheet released at the press conference (http://geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/fact-sheet/fs045-02/), the "increase in estimated oil resources is largely the result of the recognition of new plays based on oil accumulations recently discovered just east of NPRA." Included in the assessment is a comparison of the resources available in NPRA (using the 2002 assessment figures) and ANWR (using the 1998 assessment figures) that will be of great political interest as Congress begins to craft compromise energy legislation this summer.

Court Rejects New Definition of "Fill Material"
With the approval of the Bush administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently changed their definition of "fill material" to match a broader definition of the material set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This change was intended to allow disposal of spoil from mountaintop-removal mining practices by filling in adjacent valleys. On May 8th, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Haden ruled in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth v. Corps of Engineers that the Corps does not have the authority to make the definition change, which would effectively reverses part of the Clean Water Act. Haden concluded that such a change would require a revision of the act by Congress. But a bipartisan group of House members have made clear that they would oppose any change. Before Hadenís ruling, the group -- led by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) -- introduced legislation to maintain the original limits placed on fill material in the Clean Water Act.  Opposition to the definitional change has been expressed in the Senate as well. In response, mining industry representatives argue that the composition and structure of fills is largely misunderstood and that they abide by EPA standards and monitor for negative impacts on the affected streams.  Information on other Clean Water Act issues at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/clean_water.html.
 
Bush Administration Agrees to Buy Back Florida Oil Leases
On May 29th, the Bush administration announced that it has agreed to buy back portions of Florida's Gulf of Mexico offshore oil leases as well as some mineral rights in the Florida Everglades.  The Department of the Interior (DOI) will spend $115 million to reacquire seven of nine existing leases in the natural-gas-rich Destin Dome Unit, located offshore Pensacola, from Chevron, Conoco, and Murphy Oil.  Murphy Oil will suspend development of the two other leases until the moratorium on current leasing expires in 2012.  Florida has contested development in the leases since 1998 under the Coastal Zone Management Act. DOI will also spend $120 million to purchase the mineral rights to 390,000 acres in the Everglades from Collier Resources Co.  Collier will retain 200 producing acres that have an estimated 10 to 15 more years of oil production.  This acquisition agreement, which covers parts of Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, is supported by environmental groups concerned with habitat quality for the Florida panther and American crocodile.  Also, Interior Secretary Gale Norton acknowledged that the purchase of this acreage further insures implementation of the $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.  Unlike the Destin Dome buyback deal, however, the Everglades agreement must be ratified by Congress.  Both buyback agreements were sought by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) as part of a wider effort to curtail oil and gas production in Florida.  California, eager to begin lease buybacks of its own, promptly appealed to President Bush to extend buybacks to other states as well. More on outer continental shelf issues at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/ocs.html

Federal Agencies Release Data Quality Guidelines
As reported in the September 2001 Monthly Review, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is requiring all federal agencies to establish procedures to improve federally produced information disseminated to the public. The agencies must develop quality criteria and an administrative mechanism to respond to inquiries about the quality of information provided.  In recent months, several agencies have released their draft guidelines, including NSF (http://www.nsf.gov/home/pubinfo/infoqual.htm), EPA (http://www.epa.gov/oei/qualityguidelines/), the Department of Agriculture (http://www.ocio.usda.gov/irm/qi_guide/index.html), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (http://www.ostp.gov/html/DataQuality.html), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Department of Commerce (http://www.osec.doc.gov/cio/oipr/iqg.html). On May 1st, OMB announced in the Federal Register that it is seeking public comments on its draft Information Quality Guidelines for "pre-dissemination information quality control and an administrative mechanisms for requests for correction of information publicly disseminated by OMB." All federal agencies are required to make these guidelines available on their web site no later than October 1, 2002. The guidelines were originally required by a congressional mandate inserted into the fiscal year 2001 Treasury Appropriations bill by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Additional information available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/infopoltech.html.

List of Key Federal Register Notices
A new feature of the AGI Monthly Reviews is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations and notices of interest to the earth science community.  Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation.  The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont02.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 A. Baker, David Applegate, and AGI/AIPG Summer Interns Sarah Riggen and David Viator.

Sources: American Physical Society, E&E News, Federal Register, Greenwire, House Energy and Commerce Committee, Library of Congress, Minerals Management Service, National Academy of Sciences, OMBWatch, U.S. Geological Survey, and White House Office of Management and Budget.

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

Posted June 5, 2002


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