Monthly Review: October 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.

Appropriations on Hold Until After Elections
Possible Lame Duck Topics: Energy and Homeland Security
Hazards Legislation Enacted, Academy Roundtable Held
Special Update: House Appropriators Provide Big Boost to NSF
NSF Doubling Bill Held Up in Senate
Administration Plans Climate Change Workshop
Bonding Issue Revived for Mining on Public Lands
DOE Misses Yucca Deadline, Makes Final EIS Available
Hearings Mark Clean Water Act 30th Anniversary
Remaining Eisenhower Programs Nearing End
NSF Geoscience Advisory Committee Seeks Input
Special Update: President Bush's Earth Science Week 2002 Message
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material on Web Site

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Appropriations on Hold Until After Elections
Before leaving to campaign for the mid-term elections, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (H.J. Res. 123) that funds the federal government at fiscal year (FY) 2002 levels until November 22nd.  Only two of the 13 appropriations bills -- both military -- have been signed into law, and Congress is expected to return next week for a post-election ("lame duck") session to complete action on the remaining eleven bills. The productivity of such a session, however, depends largely on the outcomes of tomorrow's elections. A shift in power -- either Republicans taking control of the Senate or Democrats taking control of the House -- would likely mean delay until the 108th Congress takes office in January. And with razor-sharp edges held in both houses, such a shift may not be clear until later in the month in the event of a disputed election (ghosts of 2000). More on appropriations at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2003.html.

Possible Lame Duck Topics: Energy and Homeland Security
Two other major pieces of legislation that could be addressed during a lame duck session in November are the comprehensive energy bill, H.R. 4, and bills to establish a Department of Homeland Security (H.R. 5005; S. 2452). The House-Senate conference committee handling the energy bill negotiations has reached agreement on hundreds of pages of bill text but remains deadlocked over electricity deregulation (in particular, renewable portfolio standards), climate provisions, liability associated with ethanol requirements, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the magnitude of tax incentives. Whether these major provisions are included or dropped remains to be seen, and their fate will determine the scope and likely impact of the final bill. Background at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy.html.

The proposed Department of Homeland Security would swallow all or part of 22 federal agencies, would employ 170,000 people, and would have an annual budget in the range of $35 to $42 billion. It's Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate would be cored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and a Science and Technology Directorate would serve to identify R&D needs, coordinate research and advise the  Secretary. Because no other geoscience-related agencies besides FEMA are included in the new department, the extent to which their homeland security activities will be recognized may depend on the effectiveness of the department's external scientific coordination. This topic is covered in the Political Scene column appearing in the November 2002 issue of Geotimes at http://www.geotimes.org/nov02/scene.html.

Hazards Legislation Enacted, Academy Roundtable Held
Two pieces of hazard-related legislation were enacted into law this month. On October 1st, President Bush signed the National Construction Safety Team Act of 2002 (H.R. 4687), a bill developed by the House Science Committee in response to problems encountered during structural investigations into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. The bill gives the National Institute of Standards and Technology authority to conduct investigations into building disasters, for both human-induced and natural events, similar to the authority of the National Transportation Safety Board. If successful, this approach could become a blueprint for learning from natural disasters. On October 29th, President Bush signed the Inland Flood Forecast and Warning System Act (H.R. 2486), which provides funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop additional capability for inland flooding prediction and for the development of a flood warning index. According to bill sponsor Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC): "While we can't control the weather, we can give our communities an inland flood forecasting and warning system that they can count on."

Warnings were a central topic of a forum on risk communication held by the National Academies' Natural Disasters Roundtable on Halloween. Attendees heard from journalists, local emergency managers and hazard researchers on how to improve communication to the public on the risks associated with natural hazards. For more on the forum, see http://nationalacademies.org/naturaldisasters.

Special Update: House Appropriators Provide Big Boost to NSF
An AGI special update on October 8th reported that after months of delay, the House subcommittee that oversees spending for the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, EPA, and FEMA has drafted its version of a funding bill for FY 2003. H.R. 5605 (H. Rpt. 107-740) would provide NSF with $5.42 billion, nearly a 13% increase over FY 2002. The EarthScope project (http://www.earthscope.org) would receive $40 million, twice the amount allocated by the Senate (S. 2797; S. Rpt. 107-222) and $5 million above the President's request. Research accounts at NSF would receive $4.1 billion (up over 15%) within which the Geosciences Directorate would receive $701 million (up 15%). A committee press release provided overall numbers for the other agencies mentioned above, which are included in the update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/vahud_update1002.html.

NSF Doubling Bill Held Up in the Senate
Even as NSF's appropriations bill was making headway in the House, an authorization bill that would place the agency on a path to double its budget in the next five years has hit a stumbling block on the Senate floor.  Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) placed a hold -- or threat to filibuster -- on the Senate version (S. 2817) when it came up for floor debate shortly before the chamber recessed for the November elections.  According to reports, Kyl acted at the request of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which objected to the doubling language.  Meanwhile, House and Senate staffers have met to reconcile differences between the House bill (H.R. 4664), which passed that chamber with an overwhelming majority, and S. 2817.  This action paves the way for Congress to speedily pass the authorization bill once the hold is lifted. More on the House bill at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/science_edu.html.

Administration Plans Climate Change Workshop
The U.S. Climate Change Science Program, which includes the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and the Commerce Department's Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI), has invited scientists and other stakeholders to a meeting December 3-5, 2002, to discuss a draft version of its strategic plan for climate change and global change studies.  The strategic planning exercise is in response to President Bush's request that the global change science programs "be objective, sensitive to uncertainties, and well documented for public debate."  A discussion draft of the strategic plan will be available online by November 11th for scientific and public review.  More at http://www.climatescience.gov/ and, for an AGU alert, http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2002-22.msg.

Bonding Issue Revived for Mining on Public Lands
The revised regulations for hardrock mining on federal lands -- the so-called 3809 regulations -- have been a contentious subject since the revision process began nearly a decade ago.  A key issue is "bonding," the requirement that mining companies submit up-front proof of financial guarantee for reclamation of a mining site.  Despite a delay in implementation and review by the incoming administration in 2001, the bonding requirements have remained the same.  But there is a chance that they will be reviewed again by the Department of the Interior.  On October 11th, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton regarding a department task force that is looking at this issue. The letter notes the representatives' opposition to any efforts to weaken the bonding regulations.  Some mining companies have claimed that the current insurance environment is such that it is difficult to obtain surety bonds. According to the Department of the Interior, the task force is simply gathering information at this point, but it is expected to release a report in November to Secretary Norton. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/mining.html.

DOE Misses Yucca Deadline, Makes Final EIS Available
The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that will miss the deadline for submitting a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, DOE had 90 calendar days after a repository site is accepted to submit a license application -- the Yucca Mountain site was officially accepted by President Bush on July 23, 2002 after both the House and Senate overrode the objections of Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn (R).  At the time, DOE indicated that it would not submit an application before 2002 and argued that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act does not provide any penalties for the missed application deadline. Nevertheless, the Nevada congressional delegation has asked DOE to explain why the decision was made to move forward with the site despite knowing that the agency would miss the deadline. A legal challenge by the state is also likely to occur. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/yucca.html. In the October 25th Federal Register, DOE announced the availability of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the repository at http://www.ymp.doe.gov (full citation below).

Hearings Mark Clean Water Act 30th Anniversary
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA) with a hearing on October 8th to consider past accomplishments and future challenges. Witnesses generally agreed that since President Nixon signed CWA into law in 1972, it has provided an important regulatory framework for reducing pollution in the nation's waterways. Environmental groups have cautioned, however, that progress is incomplete with 45% of the nation's waterways still considered unfit for swimming or fishing, down from 70% in 1972. Several witnesses suggested that enforcement of the act should shift away from the point-source pollution that was its initial focus (the lasting image of Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching fire) and more toward addressing non-point source pollution from sources such as agriculture using Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards. More at http://epw.senate.gov/.

The CWA was also the subject of a much more narrowly focused hearing on the House side that looked at potential obstacles to suppression of mosquitoes bearing West Nile Virus. The October 10th hearing was held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. More at http://www.house.gov/transportation/water/.

This December, the Supreme Court will consider a case involving the CWA. Referred to as Borden Ranch Partnership v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA, the case involves interpretation of agricultural land-use practices, specifically whether such practices constitute pollutant discharge under the Clean Water Act and whether the ranch's action qualified for exemption under a provision of the CWA.

Remaining Eisenhower Programs Nearing End
A bill that would terminate the remaining Department of Education Eisenhower professional development programs, which are targeted at elementary and secondary math and science educators, awaits presidential approval.  On October 15th, the Senate passed an amended H.R. 3801, the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, that aims to improve education research, statistics, evaluation, information, and dissemination. Of key concern is the future of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse and the Eisenhower Regional Consortia. The main Eisenhower grant program already was eliminated in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The final version of the bill would provide a short-term reprieve for the regional consortia, which would end once the comprehensive centers authorized by the act are established.  There is no specific language regarding the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/science_edu.html.

NSF Geoscience Advisory Committee Seeks Input
The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Geoscience Advisory Committee is seeking comments from the geoscience community on the committee's agenda items or any other issues of concern.  Its next meeting is scheduled for November 6-8, 2002, at the NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA.  The committee directly advises the NSF Geoscience Directorate and addresses how the directorate can better serve the scientific community, promote geoscience education and increase diversity in the workforce, as well as prioritize funding areas in geoscience research. More at http://www.geo.nsf.gov/geo/about/advisory.htm.

Special Update: President Bush's Earth Science Week 2002 Message
Another AGI special update went out on October 18th bearing a presidential message that was released by the White House in recognition of Earth Science Week 2002. The message joined proclamations issued by numerous state governors and city mayors. As part of the message, President Bush wrote: "Dedicated and highly skilled geologists, geophysicists, and other earth and environmental scientists are working to protect and preserve our natural resources and environment. Their efforts are also keeping us safe from natural disasters and promoting our appreciation for the beauty and grandeur of nature…. During Earth Science Week, I encourage all Americans to recognize the vital role of the earth sciences in our lives, and to renew our commitment to good stewardship of our land." Now in its sixth year, Earth Science Week was initiated by AGI as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. For more on Earth Science Week, which ran from October 13th to 19th and featured locally organized events all across the country and around the world, see http://www.earthsciweek.org.

List of Key Federal Register Notices
A recent feature of the AGI Monthly Review is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other 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 AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern Annette Veilleux.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institutes of Physics, Coalition for National Science Funding, Department of Energy, E&E Daily, Greenwire, House Science Committee, Library of Congress, and National Science Foundation.

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

Posted November 4, 2002


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