Monthly Review: September 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.

Congressional Energy Negotiations Make Slow Progress
FY 2003 Appropriations Are Far From Finished
Legal Action Likely After Georgia County School Board Decision
Senate Hearing, Supreme Court Ruling Focus on Asbestos
NSF Bill Would Consolidate Science Education Programs
Imperial Mine Gets Green Light from Interior, Red from Congress
AAPG Holds Capitol Hill Conference on Energy and Environment
Interns Hail and Farewell, Spring Semester Applications Due October 15th
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

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Congressional Energy Negotiations Make Slow Progress
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), the chairman of the bicameral conference committee on comprehensive energy legislation (H.R. 4), has high hopes that the committee will be able to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions before Congress adjourns on October 11th. But prospects are dimming with compromise elusive on some of the biggest provisions. Conferees began meeting at the end of June but did not shift into high gear until after the August recess. They have made some headway in crafting compromises on many fronts, including the bulk of the provisions regarding energy research and development. Among the more contentious matters, they have agreed on a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards provision that would require the conservation of 5 billion gallons of oil over six years beginning in 2006. It would also require that the National Academy of Sciences study the effects of imposing revised CAFE standards. Three major issues remain: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), climate change, and tax incentives. There has been some talk of House Republicans consenting to Senate Democrats on climate change provisions in exchange for the House ANWR provision, but initial votes suggest that such a trade has little chance of making it into the final bill. Even if a provision for oil and gas exploration in ANWR made if out of the conference, the Senate would still have to break a promised filibuster by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Adding to the mix is pressure from the White House to finish the energy bill with ANWR in it -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton has requested that the president veto any energy bill that does not contain an ANWR provision. Currently on deck are negotiations on reformulated gasoline and national renewable portfolio standard provisions. Despite the best efforts by conferees, it seems like there is a long road ahead before a completed bill will make it to the House and Senate floors. Additional information on energy activities available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy.html.

FY 2003 Appropriations Are Far From Finished
Fiscal year (FY) 2003 has arrived without a single appropriations bill signed into law. Indeed, none of the 13 appropriations bills have even made it out of Congress. At last count, three bills were ready for House-Senate conference consideration but four others have not even been drafted by the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate has been debating the Interior and Related Agencies bill (H.R. 5093) for nearly a month, unable to break filibusters on an amendment addressing the western wildfires -- a cloture vote to end debate and put the amendment up for a vote has failed three times. In what has become the standard practice, Congress has passed its first Continuing Resolution (H. J. Res. 111) that will fund federal programs at FY 2002 baseline levels. The only significant movement on geoscience-related bills in September was the filing of the House Appropriations version of the Energy and Water bill (H.R. 5431) that changed little from the subcommittee version. The House Appropriations Committee has announced that it will take up the bill funding the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and EPA in the second week of October.

There has been some talk about Congress taking a slightly different approach to this year's budgetary end game. Instead of passing a series of continuing resolutions while working to pass the remaining few bills, Congress might pass a continuing resolution that would extend into January 2003 and allow the 108th Congress to finish the work, thus freeing members of the current 107th Congress to campaign for the November elections and avoid a lame-duck session afterwards. With such an approach, however, all bills not yet signed into law would have to start from scratch in January, meaning that the gains already made for geoscience programs in the U.S. Geological Survey and NSF could be lost. Additional information on FY 2003 appropriations is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2003.html.

Legal Action Likely After Georgia County School Board Decision
In the name of "providing a balanced education," the Cobb County Board of Education voted unanimously on September 26th for a new policy that would encourage the teaching of alternative "theories of origin" in science classes. An earlier decision by the board to place anti-evolution disclaimers in the district's biology textbooks had already produced a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The new decision also is likely to produce legal action. The situation is best summed up by a quote from Barry Lynn, the executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "It would be as if Cobb County were putting up a giant 'sue me' sign."

AGI was one of many organizations that sought to mobilize scientists and science educators in the county, which represents the second-largest school district in the state. In addition to letters from over 100 local university professors, the president of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association sent letters to the board. But the board also faced considerable lobbying by local chapters of the Christian Coalition and American Family Association. An action alert from the latter asserted (incorrectly, one hopes) that the new policy "would allow for scientific classroom discussion on creation as described in the Biblical account of the book of Genesis." A Geotimes Web Extra on the school board vote is available at http://www.geotimes.org/sept02/WebExtra092702.html. For more on the debate over teaching evolution, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#evolution.

Senate Hearing, Supreme Court Ruling Focus on Asbestos
The annual filings for asbestos-related claims have risen sharply over the last few years. At the same time, the number of bankruptcies has also jumped as corporations in a range of sectors are confronted with massive liabilities. According to a recent report by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, the majority of these new claims are for "nonmalignant injuries." In their opening statements to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 25th, several Senators noted that legislation is needed to help ensure that claimants receive appropriate compensation both now and in the future, especially in lights of the fact that so many defendant companies are declaring bankruptcy. No specific legislation was put forward at the hearing, but there was bipartisan support in the committee to draft such legislation. In related news, the U.S. Supreme Court -- whose decisions are a major driving force behind the drafting of asbestos legislation -- announced that it will allow a massive case including thousands of claimants to proceed despite claims by two of the 250 corporate defendants that a mass trial would be unconstitutional. The RAND report is available in PDF form at http://www.rand.org/publications/DB/DB397. Additional information on this issue is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/asbestos.html.

NSF Bill Would Consolidate Science Education Programs
President Bush signed the "No Child Left Behind" act into law in January 2002, effectively transforming the way that elementary and secondary education is supported by the federal government. For the geosciences, the major change was the termination of the Eisenhower Professional Development programs and the initiation of the Math/Science Partnerships (MSP) program at the Department of Education. To confuse matters, there is an identically named but separate MSP program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Both programs aim to improve math and science education by partnering local school districts with universities, nonprofit organizations, and corporations. The two programs were designed to be complementary: the Department of Education MSP would be administered via formula grants to the states, and the NSF MSP would be awarded through merit-based grants to provide model programs. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee markup of the NSF reauthorization bill (S. 2817), the committee accepted an amendment that would consolidate these programs in NSF starting in 2006. The amended version of S. 2817, as it currently stands with the MSP consolidation provision, could hold up a bill that otherwise has generated strong bipartisan support for its focus on doubling the NSF budget over the next five years. Although small funding levels for the Department of Education grant program has already led to its being administered through NSF, this statutory consolidation has generated concern from some key House members. Their companion bill, H.R. 4664, has already passed the House. If the Senate passes the revised S. 2817, the two chambers would meet to iron out the differences -- primarily the MSP provision -- between it and H.R.4664. More on science education issues at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/science_edu.html.

Imperial Mine Gets Green Light from Interior, Red from Congress
For several years, the Glamis Imperial Corporation has been working to get a permit to operate an open-pit gold mine in southern California. It was delayed a couple of years ago when then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt accepted a legal opinion that would allow the agency to reject the proposed mine because of potential environmental and/or cultural impacts to resources on federal lands -- the solicitor's opinion noted that the mine would be located in an area of important religious, cultural, and historical resources for the Quechan people as well as in a delicate desert environment. Reversing the previous administration's action, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that the Glamis claim is valid. This action comes at the same time that the Senate is debating the FY 2003 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 5093), which includes an amendment proposed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to prohibit the Department of the Interior from using funds to "determine the validity of mining claims of, or to approve the plan of operations submitted by, the Glamis Imperial Corporation." With the executive and legislative branches in competition, one can be certain that the judicial branch will eventually be called in to determine the winner.

AAPG Holds Capitol Hill Conference on Energy and Environment
On September 23rd, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) held its second annual president's conference in Washington D.C. to discuss environmental issues relating to energy development. The conference, held on Capitol Hill at the Reserve Officers Association Building, brought leading petroleum geologists together with policymakers from federal and state agencies, Capitol Hill, and non-governmental organizations. AAPG President Dan Smith introduced the half-day session, which began with presentations on current energy supply setting and projected domestic energy needs and supplies. Subsequent speakers discussed both historical and current environmental practices along with specific examples of how petroleum companies are handling environmental impacts offshore along the Atlantic coast of Canada and onshore in the urban setting of Long Beach, California. The lunchtime speaker was environmental attorney Victor Yannacone. AAPG plans to produce a summary of the presentations for publication. The final report of the last year's energy summit is available at http://www.aapg.org/divisions/dpa/testimonies/2001/010423_energysummit.html.

Interns Hail and Farewell, Spring Semester Applications Due October 15th
Many thanks to our three AGI/AIPG Geoscience and Public Policy Interns who each spent twelve weeks researching issues, tracking legislation, and maintaining AGI legislative updates on the web. Evelyn Kim will begin working this fall with Limno-Tech, Inc., an environmental consulting firm, in Washington, DC. Sarah Riggen now works in northern Virginia for ICF Consulting. David Viator has returned to Louisiana State University to complete his master's degree in geology. Articles by all three will appear in the November issue of The Professional Geologist. AGI gratefully acknowledges support for the summer internships provided by the AIPG Foundation.

AGI is pleased to welcome Annette Veilleux as our 2002 Fall Semester AGI/AAPG Geoscience and Public Policy Intern. A geology doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, El Paso, Annette will be spending fourteen weeks at AGI getting a first-hand look at the federal legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. AGI gratefully acknowledges support from AAPG for the semester internships. We are seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for the Spring 2003 AGI/AAPG internship. Applications must be postmarked by October 15, 2002. See http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html for further information.

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 David Applegate.

Sources: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Coalition for National Science Funding, Department of the Interior, E&E Publications, House Appropriations Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science Committee, Library of Congress, RAND Institute, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Senate Judiciary Committee.

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

Posted October 4, 2002


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