Monthly Review: October 2000


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.

Congress Flying Toward Lame Duck Session
Special Updates Report on NSF, USGS, DOE Appropriations
Science Education Whack-A-Mole: One Goes Down, Another Pops Up
BLM Issues Final Hardrock Mining Regulations
Strategic Petroleum Reserve Reauthorized
Climate Change Produces Leaks and Lawsuits
Earthquake Legislation Bounces Between House and Senate
Academy Releases Report on Earth Science at NSF
President Issues Message for Earth Science Week 2000
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Congress Flying Toward Lame Duck Session
Congress is heading home for the final campaign push with its work unfinished. As a result, they will have to return for a "lame duck" session after the election -- the first such session since 1994. The Senate left town this afternoon, and the House plans to leave Friday after passing a twelfth continuing resolution (CR) to provide continued funding at the fiscal year (FY) 2000 level for those federal programs whose appropriation bills have not yet been signed into law. They are expected to return on November 14th. The decision to hold a lame duck session comes after negotiations between the White House and Republican leaders in Congress broke down following a presidential veto of the Treasury and Legislative appropriations bills. Congress has passed 12 of the 13 obligatory appropriation bills, and Clinton has signed seven of these into law.  The remaining bills of interest to the geosciences are Commerce, which funds NOAA, and Labor/HHS, which funds science education programs.  Differences between Congress and the Administration have forced the Labor/HHS bill to the back burner -- it remains bottled up in conference.

When the Commerce bill finally makes it into law, it will have some very good news for NOAA, which would see its budget jump from $2.3 billion in FY 2000 to $3.1 billion in FY 2001. The agency's core accounts would receive $2.6 billion with an addition $0.5 billion related to a compromise agreement on conservation and land acquisition programs. More information on the FY 2001 appropriations process at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2001.html.

Special Updates Report on NSF, USGS, DOE Appropriations
Three of the key geoscience appropriation bills were signed into law during the month of October -- the Department of the Interior & Related Agencies, Energy & Water, and VA/HUD & Independent Agencies bills.  On October 17th, AGI sent out a special update on the FY 2001 Interior bill that included a healthy boost for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and land management agencies. Like the as-yet-unsigned Commerce bill, the increases were largely related to a compromise on spending for conservation and land acquisition programs. In the final bill, USGS programs receive $882 million. Fossil energy R&D at the Department of Energy receives $433.7 million. The special update also briefly reports on funding for other Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service. See http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/interior_update1000.html.

On October 25th, AGI sent out a special update on the jointly passed Energy & Water and VA/HUD bills, which were signed into law two days later. Final negotiations provided substantially higher figures for most agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), which received $4.43 billion, up 13.6 percent over FY 2000 levels. Funding for research programs - including the Geosciences Directorate - is up 13.2 percent, but no funding was provided to initiate the EarthScope project. The update also highlights geoscience programs within NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE).  See http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/vahud_update1000.html.

Science Education Whack-A-Mole: One Goes Down, Another Pops Up
The National Science Education Act (NSEA; H.R. 4271), introduced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) as a part of his three-bill package to improve elementary and secondary science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education, was defeated on the House floor during an October 24th vote.  NSEA had gained bipartisan support and was unanimously passed by the House Science Committee earlier in the summer, but support for the bill fell apart shortly before the floor vote.  Several members, even those who had been strong supporters of the bill, began to question the constitutionality of bill language that would provide $50 million to the National Science Foundation for "grants to a State or local education agency or to a private elementary or middle school for the purpose of hiring a master teacher."  The bill was brought up under suspension of the rules, a mechanism that limits debate and helps speed passage for non-controversial bills. But passing under suspension requires a two-thirds majority, and H.R. 4271 failed on a 215-156 vote.

As a reminder of just how important SMET education reform is for both parties, Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Connie Morella (R-MD) introduced the National Improvement in Mathematics and Science Teaching Act of 2000 (H.R. 5504) even as the Ehlers bill was losing ground.  The Holt-Morella bill, which is not likely to see much action this late in the congressional schedule, aims to implement several of the recommendations made by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, which released its report at the end of September 2000.  Both Morella and Holt participated in the Glenn Commission, which was chaired by former senator John Glenn, and understand that this bill is setting the stage for the next Congress.  According to a press release from Holt's office, the legislation "establishes grant programs for states to improve the recruitment and retention of math and science teachers, the quantity and quality of their professional development programs, and the achievement gap that currently exists among girls and minority students in math and science. States can use the funding for a variety of uses, such as signing bonuses, loan forgiveness, summer workshops, or master teacher initiatives."  More information on SMET education is available at http://www.agiweb.org./gap/legis106/ike106.html.

BLM Issues Final Hardrock Mining Regulations
After several years of delays and legislative riders in appropriation bills, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is releasing the final version of its Section 3809 mining regulations that apply to hardrock mining for such minerals as gold, silver, zinc, copper, lead, uranium, and molybdenum on public lands.  According to a BLM press release, the agency released the final environmental impact statement (EIS) on October 16th and expects to enact the new regulations "no earlier than 30 days after a notice of the EIS's availability appears in the October 20 Federal Register."  The release continues by saying that the final EIS "addresses five alternatives: (1) 'No Action,' which would retain the 1980 surface mining regulations; (2) State Management, under which the BLM would generally defer the regulation of exploration and mining on BLM lands to the States; (3) the Preferred Alternative; (4) Maximum Protection, under which the BLM would exercise broad discretion in determining the acceptability of proposed mining operations and would prescribe specific performance standards for mineral operations; and (5) the NRC [National Research Council] Recommendations, which would revise the existing regulations only where specifically recommended by the 1999 NRC report."  A major sticking point in the debate over the introduction of new Section 3809 regulations surrounds the 1999 NRC report "Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands," which several members of Congress and mining constituents have used as the measuring stick for any new regulations.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/miningup99.html.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve Reauthorized
On October 24th, the House passed a revised version of legislation reauthorizing the Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA; H.R. 2884).  Originally, the House passed the bill in April after a series of hearings earlier in the year, but during Senate consideration several amendments were added that required the House to re-vote on the bill. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) introduced several new provisions, including clarifying language in the bill for the "trigger" that would allow the President to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  At the end of September, Murkowski led other senators in criticizing President Clinton's decision to withdraw 30 million barrels of crude oil from the SPR.  The revised legislation will extend the president's authority to draw from the SPR and creates a permanent Northeast home heating oil reserve until 2003.  According to Environmental and Energy News, the bill also includes "language strengthening DOE's weatherization assistance program; an exemption for Alaska hydro projects of less than five megawatts; and a provision that requires the Secretaries of the Interior and Energy to undertake a national inventory of onshore oil and natural gas reserves."  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/reauthspr.html.

Climate Change Produces Leaks and Lawsuits
Five years ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its second assessment report, unleashing the endlessly quoted statement: "The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate." Now the Associated Press has leaked the key findings of a draft copy of the IPCC's third assessment, due out officially early next year. According to the AP report, the draft finds "stronger evidence for a human influence" on climate and asserts that anthropogenic greenhouse gases "have contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years." According to AP, "[t]he panel concluded that average global temperature increases ranging from 2.7 to as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit can be expected by the end of this century if current trends of concentration of heat-trapping gases continues unabated in the atmosphere." That assessment is up from a range of 1.8 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1995 assessment with the increase attributed to better models and decreasing release of sulfate aerosols.

Meanwhile, President Clinton and his science advisor, Neal Lane, are targets of a lawsuit charging that the administration's National Assessment on Climate Change violated several federal statutes. The suit was brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), and others. Knollenberg is the author of one of the provisions that the suit charges has been violated -- a rider on the FY 2000 VA/HUD appropriations bill prohibiting publication of the report before all the underlying science was complete. The suit also alleges multiple violations of the open meeting requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

Earthquake Legislation Bounces Between House and Senate
On October 18th, the Senate passed legislation to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) as well as the National Weather Service, and the U.S. Fire Administration. Known as the Earth, Wind, and Fire Authorization Act of 2000 (S. 1639), this legislation faced little opposition but has struggled to get congressional attention. The House version of NEHRP legislation, H.R. 1184, passed that chamber way back in April 1999. The House responded to the Senate's passage of S. 1639 by passing its own amended version to correct drafting errors in the Senate version. Finally, on Halloween, the Senate agreed to the House changes, and the legislation should be cleared for the president's signature. Whew! The bill authorizes $185 million for the USGS to develop an Advanced National Seismic System network. It also establishes the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation named for the former Science Committee chairman who passed away last year. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/nehrp.html.

Academy Releases Report on Earth Science at NSF
At the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Research Council undertook a study of NSF's Earth Science Division and its role in overall federal support of earth science research. The resulting report, "Basic Research Opportunities in Earth Science" was released earlier this month. It was developed by a committee chaired by seismologist Thomas Jordan of the University of California, Los Angeles. The report sets out six areas where they found the opportunities to be particularly compelling: the "Critical Zone" of complex interactions in the near-surface environment between rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms; geobiology; research on Earth and planetary materials at the molecular level using advanced instrumentation; investigations of the continents; studies of the Earth's deep interior; and planetary science. It recommends a two-thirds increase in the division's budget over the next ten years. In particular, the report calls for major new investments in geobiology and Earth and planetary materials research as well as enhanced support for hydrology and multidisciplinary studies of the Critical Zone. The report strongly endorses NSF's Earthscope initiative, proposed but not funded in the foundation's FY 2001 budget. It also calls for establishment of an Earth Science Natural Laboratory program to support long-term, multidisciplinary research into terrestrial processes. The report also calls for increased partnerships, higher funding for instrumentation and facilities, and expanded education efforts. The report is not yet out in hard copy but is available on the Web at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9981.html.

President Issues Message for Earth Science Week 2000
The following presidential message was released by the White House in recognition of Earth Science Week 2000, which extended from October 8th to 14th. The message joins proclamations issued by 29 state governors and a number of city mayors. In it, President Clinton recognizes the stewardship role of earth and environmental scientists and applauds efforts to provide citizens, and especially students, with "a deeper appreciation for the wonder and beauty of our Earth and the talented men and women who have unlocked so many of its mysteries." More on Earth Science Week at http://www.earthscienceworld.org/week/.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
Nov. 11-16   GSA Annual Meeting    Reno NV 
Nov. 13   GAP Advisory Cmte. Mtg.   Reno NV
Dec.14-19    AGU Fall Meeting   San Francisco CA

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 and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Sources: Associated Press, Bureau of Land Management, Energy and Environment News, Federal Register, Library of Congress, National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, Representative Rush Holt, USBudget.com.

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

Posted November 2, 2000
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