Monthly Review: July 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.

Senate Appropriators Fund EarthScope, Put NSF on Doubling Path
Congress Boosts USGS and DOE Fossil Energy Funding
Other Appropriations Bills: Senate Committee Action Complete
FCC Announces Waiver for Users of Ground Penetrating Radar
Yucca Mountain Receives Senate Approval, Faces Budget Cut
Homeland Security Legislation Includes Science Provisions
OCS Energy Production is Subject of House Hearings
House and Senate Hold Climate Change Hearings
Senate Hearing Focuses on High Plains Aquifer Bill
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

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Senate Appropriators Fund EarthScope, Put NSF on Doubling Path
The Senate Appropriations Committee provided good news for the earth science community when it passed S. 2792, which funds the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) among other independent agencies, on July 25th. The Senate bill would provide NSF with an 11% increase from last year's allocation to total $5.3 billion. The committee rejected the administration's proposal to transfer programs to NSF from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), EPA, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In the report accompanying the bill (S. Rpt. 107-222), the committee stated: "In lieu of the transfer, the Committee is directing that the funds provided be used to augment high priority research activities in the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences." Funding for the Geoscience Directorate would total $684.5 million, an increase of 12.3% above last year's allocation. Of that increase, $15 million is directed toward initiation of the next-generation integrated ocean drilling program.

Despite a massive cut of 43% from the requested $126 million for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC; formerly just MRE) account, the Senate bill provides $20 million for the EarthScope project. Although considerably less than the president's $35 million request, the amount is still significant given that EarthScope is the only new start receiving any funds. The MREFC funding is contingent on NSF hiring a permanent Deputy Director for Large Facility Projects, a post that has only been filled on an acting basis. The question now is how the NSF will fare in the House version, which is not expected until well after Congress returns from the August recess. Indeed, rumor has it that the House might not act until a post-election session in November, when additional funding could be found for the bill. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/approps_vahud2003.html.

Congress Boosts USGS and DOE Fossil Energy Funding

As reported in a July 19th AGI alert, the House has passed and the Senate is poised to pass appropriations legislation that restores funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Department of Energy's fossil energy research program, both the subject of significant cuts in the president's FY 2003 request. USGS funding would total $928 million in the House version (up 6.6% over the president's request and 1.6% over FY 2002) and $927 million in the Senate version (up 6.8% and 1.4% respectively). Water and geologic programs that were proposed for large reductions, elimination, or transfer in the president's request were completely restored in both bills. Both House and Senate bills are accompanied by strong language chastising the administration for failing to adequately support the important work of the USGS. In the Department of Energy, funding for natural gas exploration and production was nearly doubled from the budget request -- the Senate providing $23.5 million (up 14% from last year) and the House $22.2 million (up 8% from last year). Petroleum research, which was threatened with a 50% cut in the request, is still down but not as much. The House recommendation totals $30.4 million (down 6% from last year), and the Senate totals $27.4 million (down 15% from last year).

Correction: The July 19th alert incorrectly stated that the USGS National Water Quality Assessment program received an increase of 11% over FY 2002 levels. That percentage increase was relative to the president's request. A corrected version of the alert can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/interior_alert0702.html.

Other Appropriations Bills: Senate Committee Action Complete

Moving ahead of its House counterpart, the Senate Appropriations Committee has completed its consideration of all thirteen of the annual spending bills. The full Senate, however, has only passed two of the bills while the House has passed five. None have made it through a final House-Senate conference. Some highlights follow. For more on appropriations, please visit http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2003.html.

Commerce/Justice/State (S. 2778) -- The Senate bill would provide a total of $3.35 billion to NOAA. Funding for the National Sea Grant College program, which was marked for transfer to the NSF in the budget request, would receive $63.4 million. Report language called the proposed transfer an "ill-conceived notion." Within NOAA, the National Ocean Service would receive $506 million, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research programs would receive $413 million, the National Weather Service would receive $749 million, and the Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service would receive $742 million.

Labor/HHS (S. 2766) -- The Department of Education section in S. 2766 provides mixed news for science education. The Math and Science Partnerships program, which were funded last year at $12.5 million, would receive double that amount (the president requested flat funding). While an improvement, the higher level still represents only slightly more than 5% of the authorized $450 million for these partnerships.

Energy & Water (S. 2794) -- Overall discretionary funding for the Department of Energy would total $20.7 billion, an increase of $147 million above the budget request. The Office of Science would receive $3.27 billion, including the requested $1 billion for the Basic Energy Science program. In other Energy and Water appropriations news, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation would receive $944.5 million but would not include funds for the CALFED Bay-Delta project.

VA/HUD (S. 2797) -- NASA would be provided with a grand total of $15.2 billion, an increase of slightly more than one percent above the budget request. Funding for the Science, Aeronautics and Technology account would total $9 billion, a 12% increase from last year's level -- the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) would be provided with an increase of about $50 million more than the requested $1.6 billion. EPA would be provided with an increase of nearly 9% above the request to total $8.3 billion. In the Science and Technology account, the committee recommends a 4.5% increase above the budget request to total $710 million. The Senate bill includes $9.75 million for the STAR Fellowship Program, which was slated for elimination in the request. Brownfields activities would receive a total of $200 million in funding. The committee would provide the requested $1.27 billion for Superfund activities. FEMA would receive a grand total of $4.4 billion, which would include $1.8 billion for disaster relief, $25 million for pre-disaster mitigation grants ($300 million was requested), and $300 million for the flood map modernization project, equal to the president's request.

FCC Announces Waiver for Users of Ground Penetrating Radar
On July 12th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a new policy that will ease restrictions on the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). According to an FCC press release: "Under the new procedure, eligible users may operate under a blanket waiver to Part 15 regulations provided that they register their devices with the Commission." The new procedure would also expand the definition of who may qualify as eligible operators -- the FCC originally restricted GPR use to "law enforcement, fire and rescue organizations, to scientific research institutions, to commercial mining companies, and to construction companies." Under the clarified procedure, GPR may be used for one of the previously listed uses but "need not be operated directly by one of the described parties," opening the door for private contractors. The impact of FCC rules on GPR has been of great concern to the environmental geophysics community. For Geotimes coverage of congressional attention to this topic, visit http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/july02/NN_gpr.html. The FCC press release is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-224279A1.pdf, and the full announcement is available at
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-02-1658A1.pdf.

Yucca Mountain Receives Senate Approval, Faces Budget Cut
On July 9th, the Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 34 approving Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for high-level nuclear waste. After a 60-39 vote to proceed with the measure, the chamber passed the resolution by voice vote. The Senate vote, along with the House's passage of H.J. Res. 87 in May, overrides the formal objection to the site by Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn (R). DOE must now submit a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Signaling his continued opposition to the project, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) used his chairmanship of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing DOE to slash the repository project's budget for FY 2003 by 36% below the president's requested $525 million. The committee-approved bill (S. 2794, discussed above) provides $336 million, down 10% from the current year's level.

OCS Energy Production is Subject of House Hearings
The House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held several hearings in July related to energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). An overarching theme of the hearings was the future of domestic energy supply from both traditional fossil fuels and alternative energy sources -- topics that are currently being addressed in the ongoing House-Senate energy bill conference. Participants in a July 16th hearing discussed the US's growing natural gas supply and demand imbalance caused by high demand and lagging supply. Bush Administration officials, following plans in the National Energy Policy and the House energy bill (H.R. 4) that boost traditional domestic fuels like natural gas, called for the opening of gas-rich federal and OCS lands to exploration and production. Also considered, in a hearing on July 25th, was a bill (H.R. 5156) that would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide an enhanced administrative framework for the management of energy related activities on the OCS. The administration-supported legislation aids existing oil and gas operations and encourages alternative energy projects such as wind, wave, and solar power. A third hearing, on July 23rd, examined the impacts of the current lack of surety bonds on mining, oil, and gas industries that operate on federal lands, including the OCS. Financial arrangements like surety bonds guarantee post-production site reclamation and are required for operational permits on federal lands. The Department of the Interior has established a Bonding Task Force to address the problem. More information on the OCS can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/ocs.html.

Homeland Security Legislation Includes Science Provisions
July was a busy month for homeland security legislation. While the Senate and the House have moved at very different paces, both chambers have taken considerable action on the president's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposal. The final House bill (H.R. 5005) was passed on July 26th by a 295-132 vote. The Senate bill (S. 2452) was passed out of the Governmental Affairs Committee and is now awaiting floor action after the August recess. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) has led efforts to see that science and technology play as key a role in the new department as they do in the nation's security. To guarantee that role, members of the House Science Committee offered two key amendments to H.R. 5005, both adopted as part of the final bill. An amendment offered by Boehlert and Science Committee Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (TX) called for the appointment of a DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology responsible for the coordination and organization of all research and development pertaining to homeland security. An amendment offered by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) would establish a Homeland Security Institute in response to a recently released National Academy of Sciences report calling for a body to provide independent technical and policy analysis to the DHS. Another successful amendment, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) would ensure that FEMA, which is slated to become part of DHS, continues to carry out all of its responsibilities -- including natural disaster relief -- in addition to its focus on homeland security issues.

The administration's request for a broad Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption for DHS has produced a strong partisan response in both the House and Senate with Republicans supporting the president and Democrats expressing concern that the exemption would create an even larger loophole allowing non-sensitive information to be kept quiet under the disclosure law. Of particular concern was the potential for industries to be able to withhold information on their risk management plans, part of the Clean Air Act. H.R. 5005 has maintained the original exemption but an amendment to increase the freedom of the DHS to make additional exemptions failed. S. 2452 also includes a provision requiring the DHS to comply with all environmental, safety, and health regulations. This provision is not present in the House version.

House and Senate Hold Climate Change Hearings
In several hearings this month, House and Senate committees called President Bush's advisors in to defend the administration's climate change policies. In general, the administration witnesses -- including the president's science advisor, John Marburger --pointed to scientific uncertainty in climate models as a key reason not to undertake economically risky policies at the present time. At a House Science Committee hearing held on July 10th, White House officials announced that the administration may need up to five years to develop a climate change strategy and also announced plans to release a ten-year strategic plan in March 2003. More at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full02/index.htm. At a similar hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee the next day, the testimony of the president's advisors reflected their support for the EPA Climate Action Report 2002 released this May (http://commerce.senate.gov/hearings/hearings0202.htm). Although the report acknowledged a human influence on global warming, the testimony focused on its lack of suggestions for new policy to reverse trends, stating instead the need for the US to adapt, to continue studying the issue, and to encourage voluntary greenhouse gas reductions by industries.

On July 25th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the viability of climate models. There was some division over the accuracy of models, but most of the witnesses agreed that uncertainty should not hinder sensible policy decisions, as climate change is apparent in the imminent future. More information at http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/hearings/07252002Hearings676/hearing.htm. On July 26th, House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced H.R. 5266, a legislative version of President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative for reducing power plant emissions. At least one hearing is expected on this bill later this year.

Senate Hearing Focuses on High Plains Aquifer Bill
The Senate Water and Power Subcommittee held a July 31st hearing to receive testimony on several bills, including S. 2773, which authorizes the Department of the Interior "to cooperate with the High Plains Aquifer States in conducting a hydrogeologic characterization, mapping, modeling, and monitoring program for the High Plains Aquifer." New Mexico State Geologist Peter Scholle testified in support of the bill, which would establish a joint program between the USGS and eight state geological surveys to map and monitor the aquifer that underlies 174,000 square miles. Groundwater withdrawals greatly exceed recharge across the aquifer, and in some places, the aquifer's thickness has decreased by over 100 feet. Scholle was accompanied by Kansas State Geologist Lee Allison, who organized the coalition that sparked this legislation.

Also testifying at the hearing was USGS Director Charles "Chip" Groat, who expressed conceptual support for the bill while outlining administration concerns over certain specific provisions. Groat noted that the High Plains aquifer represents a critical resource challenge that raises questions of long-term sustainability. The bill was introduced on July 23rd by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) joined by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Pete Domenici (R-NM). At the hearing, Bingaman characterized the proposed research effort as a "race against time" given the aquifer depletion and emphasized the urgent need for research in support of policy making. Scholle noted that the legislation would help ensure that the relevant science is available as quickly as possible.

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, and AGI/AIPG Summer Interns David Viator, Sarah Riggen, and Evelyn Kim; and David Applegate.

Sources: E&E News, Federal Register, Federal Communications Commission, Hearing testimony, House and Senate Committees, Library of Congress, National Council for Science and the Environment, and White House.

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

Posted August 2, 2002


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