Monthly Review: June 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 and Senate Committees Set FY 2003 Spending Levels, Restore USGS Funding
Four-Pollutant Bill Passes Senate Committee
NSF Reauthorization Bill Waits in Senate
House Holds Hearing on GPR Regulations
US Oil Dependency Focus of House Hearing
Senate Hearing Addresses Asbestos Legislation, Libby MT
Natural Hazards Caucus Briefed on Warning Systems
EPA Releases Climate Change Report
NSF Seeks Comments on Environmental Science Agenda
Yucca Mountain Earthquake Shapes Up Senate Deliberations
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

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House and Senate Committees Set FY 2003 Spending Levels, Restore USGS Funding
Better late than never, Congress has finally begun the process of crafting the 13 annual appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2003. On June 24th, the House Appropriations Committee approved the amount that each of its 13 subcommittees has to spend. These 302(b) allocations, as they are known in Hill parlance, total $748 billion in discretionary spending. The following day, the House Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM), approved its bill, which was allocated $19.7 billion, up $717 million above the president's request. Although details remain scant until the full committee acts on the bill sometime after the Independence Day holiday, a subcommittee press release did reveal that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is slated to receive $928 million, a figure that is $61 million above the president's request and $14 million more than the USGS received in FY 2002. Numbers for other agencies funded by the bill can be found in a press release by the House Appropriations Committee (http://www.house.gov/appropriations/news/107_2/03intsub.htm), but the release does not include specific numbers for the Department of Energy's fossil energy research programs, which were particularly hard hit in the request.

On June 28th, the full Senate Appropriations Committee set its 302(b) allocations totaling $768 billion, $20 billion more than the House. That same day, the full committee approved its version of the Interior bill (skipping a subcommittee vote). The committee allocated only $18.93 billion for the bill, $23 million below the president's request. Nevertheless, the committee provided USGS with $927 million, just $1 million below the House number. The Senate Appropriations Committee put out a press release with first-order numbers for agencies within its jurisdiction (http://appropriations.senate.gov/releases/record.cfm?id=184155).

House and Senate allocations for key geoscience-related Appropriations subcommittees can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2003.html. More information on the Interior bill will be posted when available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/approps_interior2003.html. The Senate committee report (S.Rpt.107-201) will be available on http://thomas.loc.gov. Appropriations bills are not assigned a number until they pass through committee and come to the floor.

Four-Pollutant Bill Passes Senate Committee
By a one-vote margin, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed legislation on June 27th that revises the Clean Air Act by setting mandatory emission caps for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide. The bill, sponsored by committee chairman James Jeffords (I-VT) and dubbed the Clean Power Act of 2001 (S. 556), caps emission levels for these four pollutants by the year 2008. Republicans, led by committee ranking member Robert Smith (R-NH), opposed the bill because of the  inclusion of CO2, but signaled their willingness to proceed on a non-CO2 three-pollutant bill that would have a higher chance of getting through a full vote in the Senate than the current proposal. Before the final vote, Smith floated the idea of introducing an amendment to bring Jeffords' bill in line with President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative, which regulates the three less-controversial pollutants.  Smith chose not to push the amendment, however, when it was clear that he did not have sufficient votes to pass it.  Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who voted against the bill, accused the legislation of both adding unneeded complexity on top of existing laws and being too open to costly litigation. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/clean_air.html. On June 12th, the same committee held its third hearing on the costs and benefits of multi-pollutant legislation. More on the hearing at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/cleanair_hearings.html.

NSF Reauthorization Bill Waits in Senate
By a 397-25 vote, the House passed legislation (H.R. 4664) on June 5th reauthorizing the National Science Foundation (NSF) and putting the agency on a path to double its budget over the next five years. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said in his floor statement that the "scale of NSF's budget today is simply not commensurate with the breadth and importance of its mission."  Two weeks later the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the educational aspects of the NSF reauthorization bill -- the research funding aspect falls under the jurisdiction of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  At the June 19th HELP hearing, NSF Director Rita Colwell and former Senator John Glenn were among those testifying on the important role that NSF plays in all levels of science education. FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News provides more on the hearing at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2002/078.html. The question now is whether the Senate Commerce Committee will take up the bill for consideration.  Although the committee had scheduled a hearing in the middle of June, it was subsequently postponed, and no new date has been announced.

House Holds Hearing on GPR Regulations
The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee held a hearing on June 5th to discuss recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations for ultra-wide band (UWB) use of the radio spectrum. A key focus of the hearing was the impact that these regulations would have on ground-penetrating radar (GPR), a geophysical technology that radiates short bursts of radio-frequency energy into the ground, ice, water, and manmade materials, to allow noninvasive exploration of features not visible at the surface.  The new rules would restrict GPR system operations at frequencies below 960 MHz and between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz to "law enforcement, fire and emergency rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies." All use between 960 MHz and 3.1 GHz would be banned. These regulations have produced an outcry from independent geophysicists concerned that they will be unable to legally use this technology. Their concerns were shared at the hearing by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who argued: "This technology has too many promising applications to stifle it based on unfounded, and unproven, concerns." At the hearing, an FCC representative indicated the agency's willingness to consider waivers and to conduct additional review and refinement of the regulations. The July 2002 issue of Geotimes includes a news note on this topic by Lisa Pinsker at http://www.geotimes.org/july02/NN_gpr.html. More about the hearing is also available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/hearings/06052002Hearing569/hearing.htm.

US Oil Dependency Focus of House Hearing
The House Committee on International Relations held a hearing on oil diplomacy on June 20th.  Administration officials, including Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, described the current goals of energy policy in the US. A second group of outside witnesses offered their concerns and suggestions for improvement of US policy.  There was widespread agreement that dependency on OPEC oil must be reduced.  While some felt diversifying non-OPEC oil sources could easily fill US oil demands, others emphasized the importance of energy conservation.  Increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and encouraging technical innovations were two popular solutions for conserving energy.  Diversification of energy sources was also discussed -- specifically the increased use of nuclear, solar, and wind power. Witnesses and members of Congress alike were quite positive that, if given the opportunity and incentive, Americans would come up with new technologies and methods of conserving energy that would be a win-win on many fronts, including foreign policy, the US economy, competitiveness of US products in the global market, the environment, employment, and quality of life. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy_hearings.html.

Senate Hearing Addresses Asbestos Legislation, Libby MT
On June 20th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Superfund, Toxics, Risk and Waste Management Subcommittee held a hearing on the status of asbestos remediation for the town of Libby, Montana. Libby is home to the now-closed and bankrupt W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine, which has been the source of asbestos-related health problems for Libby miners and residents. The hearing brought together Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Libby residents, federal and local health specialists, and an official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss past events at Libby as well as future directions for health care and remediation for the area. Sen. Murray has introduced legislation in the Senate (S. 2641) that seeks to ban all asbestos use in the US.  The EPA's current concerns are the cleanup of vermiculite insulation in Libby homes and the possible contamination of hundreds of nationwide processing plants that accepted Libby vermiculite. Concerns of the other witnesses included 1) expanding the regulation of asbestos beyond the six currently recognized forms, 2) providing long-term health care for Libby residents, and 3) continuing asbestos-related research. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/asbestos.html.

Natural Hazards Caucus Briefed on Warning Systems
On June 24th, the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing on "Delivering Clear and Effective Warnings: the Natural Hazards Challenge."  Speakers included Mary Lou Zoback from the USGS, Ron McPherson from the American Meteorological Society, Craig Fugate from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, George Vradenburg from AOL Time Warner, George Heinrichs from Intrado Inc, and Peter Ward from the Partnership for Public Warning.  The speakers discussed that fact that effective warning systems are based not only on good scientific information and governance but also on public education and technology. The lunch briefing was attended by 80 congressional staff, federal agency representatives, and members of the working group supporting the caucus, which is co-chaired by Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). More information and links to the speakers' presentations will be available shortly at http://www.agiweb.org/workgroup.

EPA Releases Climate Change Report
In accordance with the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the EPA in June released the "US Climate Action Report 2002" on the status of US climate change policy.  The report outlines existing and planned policies, indicates future trends in greenhouse gas emissions, comments on expected climate impacts and adaptation measures, and discusses financial resources and climate research directions in the US.  The report has received considerable publicity, because it appears to mark the first time that the Bush Administration has asserted that human-induced global warming is backed by "sound science."  The administration had previously argued that any effects by anthropogenic greenhouse gasses on climate change had yet to be properly substantiated. The apparent policy shift was quickly downplayed by top administration officials, including the president who dismissed the report as the work of government bureaucrats. The report echoes the findings of the 2001 U.S. National Assessment -- produced during the Clinton Administration -- that attributed recent global warming to human activities, especially the use of fossil fuels.  Instead of mitigating the effects of global warming by introducing mandatory reductions on greenhouse gas emissions similar to those in the Kyoto treaty, the EPA report focuses on incentive-driven emission cuts and adaptation to new environments as the preferred means for coping with climate change.  The report also continues the administration’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol by noting its possible negative effects on the US economy.  The full report can be found at http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/car/.

NSF Seeks Comments on Environmental Science Agenda
The National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Environmental Research and Education is preparing a ten-year agenda and is seeking community input on its current draft.  One of the goals of the agenda is to "identify areas of opportunity for NSF research and education efforts" in the environmental sciences. According to the committee, the draft agenda draws on recommendations made by the National Science Board in its 2000 report "Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century" and the National Research Council's 2001 report "Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences." The draft agenda is available at http://www.nsf.gov/geo/ere/ereweb/advisory.cfm. Comments can be provided electronically and will be accepted until August 10th.

Yucca Mountain Earthquake Shakes Up Senate Proceedings
As a rule, earthquakes measuring 4.4 in magnitude in the Nevada desert do not garner much attention, unless they happen to strike a dozen miles from the politically charged Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository site. The June 14th quake came just days after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-10 in favor of a resolution overriding Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's (R) notice of disapproval for the Yucca Mountain site. The House already approved the override, and the full Senate is expected to vote on the issue by July 26th. Although the Department of Energy reported no damage to any facilities at the site, repository opponents were quick to portray the quake as a "wake-up call for the Senate," in the words of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV). She also stated that "if anyone ever wondered about the wisdom of locating an underground radioactive dump site on an active fault line, this shows why." Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) argued: "There is no need to rush to build a nuclear repository when there are so many unanswered questions about its safety and security." The quake did not deter repository advocates. A Republican senator is expected to offer a motion to proceed on the override resolution shortly after the Senate reconvenes on July 8th after the Independence Day recess.

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 geoscience 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 David Viator, Sarah Riggen, and Evelyn Kim.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, E&E Daily, House and Senate Committees, Library of Congress, National Council for Science and the Environment, and National Science Foundation.

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

Posted July 3, 2002


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