Monthly Review: June 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.

USGS, DOE Fossil Energy Funding Restored
Gulf Coast Lease Sale Scaled Back After House Vote
Administration Makes Key Science Appointments
Bush Receives National Academy Report on Climate Change
Return of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?
EPA Sets Exposure Standard for Yucca Mountain
Special Update: Evolution Opponents on the Offensive
Atmospheric, Earth Science Leaders Meet with House Science Chair
Vertebrate Paleontologists Hold Congressional Briefing
Capitol Hill Exhibition Highlights Ocean Drilling
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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USGS, DOE Fossil Energy Funding Restored
On June 28th, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2002 Interior and Related Agencies spending bill. Although not quite as generous as the House, the Senate bill would restore nearly all the cuts proposed in the president's request for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), providing $892.5 million, a $79 million increase over the request and $9.7 million more than FY 2001. Geologic programs would receive $229.5 million, up $4.2 million over FY 2001. Increases include $2 million for Alaskan volcano monitoring, $1.5 million for Alaskan coal-bed methane resources, and several other state-specific projects. Although the committee restored most of the funding for cooperative geologic mapping, it did accept $1 million of the president's requested cut as well as a $0.5 million cut to the Great Lakes mapping project.  The bill would provide water resources programs with $200.8 million, a $2.7 million cut from FY 2001, including a $3.6 million cut to the NAWQA program. Mapping programs would receive $129.8 million, $0.7 million below FY 2001, and biological programs would receive $164.4 million, up $3.9 million from FY 2001. The bill will be considered by the full Senate after the July 4th recess.

As reported in a June 15th alert, the House Appropriations Committee restored funding for the USGS and for DOE oil and gas research programs, slated for significant reductions in the president's request. The committee also expressed concern over recent developments at the Smithsonian Institution regarding science programs there. The spending bill, H.R. 2217, passed the House on June 21st in a 376-32 vote.  Once the Senate completes action on its version of the bill, a House-Senate conference will work out the differences.  The alert is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/interior_approps0601.html.

Gulf Coast Lease Sale Scaled Back After House Vote
On June 28th, President Bush officially presented his energy plan to Congress. Along with the provisions outlined in the Cheney report, the submission makes a supplementary budget request of $300 million for energy-efficiency research programs that were heavily cut in the president's original budget request sent to Capitol Hill in April. Even as the president's plan made its official debut, those aspects that were directed at increased fossil fuel development came under bipartisan fire in Congress. By a 242-173 majority, the House supported an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill to block future oil, gas, and coal leases in national monuments. By a 247-164 vote, they supported a moratorium on the proposed Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 181 off the Alabama and Florida coasts. That sale has been strongly opposed by the Florida delegation and Gov. Jeb Bush (R) due to concerns about the impact on tourism. In response, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced on July 2nd that the lease sale would be reduced from the 6 million acres proposed by the Clinton administration down to 1.5 million acres, all of it more than 100 miles from Florida. On a related note, neither the House nor Senate versions of the Interior appropriations bill includes funds requested by the president to conduct oil and gas studies in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Administration Makes Key Science Appointments
Many groups within the science community have been vocal in criticizing the administration's slow progress in making science appointments. Among the major science agencies and programs, only NSF, NASA, and USGS have permanent leadership in place. But the bulk of the criticism has been the lack of a science advisor, or more formerly the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Remedying the situation, President Bush announced on June 25th his intention to nominate John H. Marburger to the post. Marburger is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.  A former president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, he also headed the university consortium developing the ill-fated Superconducting Super Collider.  More at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/06/20010625-2.html.
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has named James Tate, an ornithologist who has worked in a range of both scientific and political positions, as her science advisor. During the 1990's, Tate spent eight years as a professional staff member on two Senate committees.  Most recently an Advisory Scientist at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Tate has also worked as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on endangered species, as a branch chief and policy analyst for the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement, and as manager of environmental affairs for Atlantic Richfield's coal subsidiary in Denver, Colorado.  More on Tate at http://www.doi.gov/news/010606a.html. In another sign of progress, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Colorado lawyer Bennett Raley to be Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science, a post that oversees the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation. More on Raley at http://www.doi.gov/news/010416a.html.

Bush Receives National Academy Report on Climate Change
Shortly after taking office, the Bush administration asked the National Academy of Sciences to answer several climate-related questions in preparation for the upcoming round of climate treaty negotiations taking place in Bonn this July.  The result was a report that came out in early June entitled "Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions," intended to send President Bush to Europe better informed on the status of climate change research in the U.S. and the world.  Although the report states that uncertainties remain regarding natural climate variability and the capabilities of current climate models, its summary emphasized that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities." The report was released shortly before the president embarked on a European tour in which he emphasized the need for caution given the uncertainties in future climate projections and called for scrapping the Kyoto Protocol while embarking on further research. The report is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10139.html. More information on climate change policy is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/climate.html.

Return of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?
The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was established in 1972 to provide Congress with impartial analysis of scientific and technological issues. Its creation was both a reflection of the increasing importance of these issues to the nation and of a growing imbalance in expertise between a sprawling executive branch and the legislative branch. But OTA was forced to close its doors in 1995 as the Republican-controlled 104th Congress sought to reduce the size of government, their own branch included. Now there is an effort afoot to bring it back. The effort is being led by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who along with 34 of their colleagues have introduced H.R. 2148 to reopen OTA.  The bill would reauthorize the office for a period of five years and would authorize $20 million per year in funding, the same level OTA had before it closed.  The bill's supporters note that many of the current hot issues in Congress are rooted in scientific and technological information, such as global climate change, scientific research ethics, electronic commerce, bioengineering, hazards, and privacy.  The American Institute of Physics has an update on the bill at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2001/076.html. An archive of past OTA reports is available at http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/.

EPA Sets Exposure Standard for Yucca Mountain
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released final public health and environmental radiation protection standards for Yucca Mountain on June 6th.  These standards set acceptable levels of radiation exposure from groundwater, air, and soil in the areas surrounding the repository.  Originally proposed in the summer of 1999, the stringent standards would limit human exposure from all sources of radiation to less than 15 millirem per year with a separate groundwater standard of 4 mrem per year to be measured 11 miles from the site.  According to EPA: "At this level, no more that 3 people in 10,000 have a lifetime risk of developing a fatal cancer."  Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham is expected to make the formal recommendation later this year for President Bush to move ahead to the licensing process for Yucca Mountain. It will then be up to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to determine whether DOE can demonstrate that the site is likely to meet the EPA standards. Supporters of the repository project have argued against a separate groundwater standard, stating that it would be difficult for the site to achieve and would not produce greater public safety. Repository opponents generally support the standards. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), now the Majority Whip, threatened to block all EPA nominations in an effort to pressure the agency to release the standards. His opposition to the repository project is shared by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), further dimming its prospects. The EPA standards are available at http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca/.

Special Update: Evolution Opponents on the Offensive
As reported in a June 19th special update: A day before the Senate completed action on comprehensive education legislation that it had debated for six weeks, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced a two-sentence amendment drafted by anti-evolution activists. The amendment, presented in the form of a Senate resolution, encourages teaching the "controversy" surrounding biological evolution. Amidst a flurry of other amendments, the Senate voted 91-8 in favor of the provision on its way to passing the entire bill by the same margin. Earlier, a group of conservative representatives had stripped a science testing provision out of the House counterpart bill in part because of concerns that the tests would include evolution-related questions. Differences between the two bills will be worked out in a House-Senate conference taking place in July.  The Special Update is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolution_update0601.html.

Atmospheric, Earth Science Leaders Meet with House Science Chair
Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) hosted a June 14th breakfast for presidents of atmospheric and earth science organizations to meet with House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). The meeting was organized by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which is located in Udall's district as is the Geological Society of America, whose president-elect and immediate past president attended the event. Others at the meeting included AGI President Larry Woodfork and representatives from the American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Boehlert made brief opening remarks on the committee's priorities and the role of science in the current administration.  Each of the representatives provided a short description of their organization and how their members relate to the committee's focus areas of energy, environment, and education. An earlier meeting of geoscience society leaders with Boehlert took place in May, organized by American Institute of Professional Geologists President and New York State Geologist Bob Fakundiny, as reported in last month's review.

Vertebrate Paleontologists Hold Congressional Briefing
The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology hosted a Capitol Hill luncheon briefing on June 8th to discuss fossil preservation on public lands. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) spoke at the briefing on legislation that he plans to introduce in response to a report by the Department of the Interior on what he described as a "patchwork" of regulations. He added that he would soon be introducing the bill as a conservationist, a parent, and someone fascinated by dinosaurs. The purpose of the bill is to give federal land managers the authority and resources to protect vertebrate fossils in order to ensure that they will not be removed from the public domain but will be preserved for public appreciation for all time. McGovern described the bill as promoting science and learning and did not think anyone could possibly oppose it. The bill will also call for stiffer penalties similar to those for archeological resources. For background on this topic, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#fossils.

Capitol Hill Exhibition Highlights Ocean Drilling
On June 13th, the Coalition for National Science Funding held its annual Congressional Exhibition and Reception in the Rayburn House Office Building. Comprised of scientific and engineering societies and universities, the coalition focuses its efforts on increasing support for the National Science Foundation (NSF). As in past years, AGI and the American Geophysical Union co-hosted a display highlighting research within the NSF Geosciences Directorate. This year's display was developed by Frank Rack and Brecht Donoghue of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions to celebrate 25 years of the NSF-sponsored Ocean Drilling Program.  The well-attended event included 15 members of Congress and over 70 staff from congressional offices. For more on CNSF, see http://www.cnsfweb.org. For more on ODP, see http://www.oceandrilling.org.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
July 13-14   Yucca Mountain Workshop   Berkeley CA
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 Caetie Ofiesh.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, EENews, Environmental Protection Agency, Geological Society of America, Greenwire, House Appropriations Committee, USBudget.com, Washington Post.

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

Posted July 8, 2001


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