Monthly Review: November 2001


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.

Power Politics on Energy Policy
Appropriations Process About to Wrap Up
Congress Works Through Education Jam
NSF Wins Praise from OMB
Bush to Fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
New NASA Head Nominated, NOAA Head Confirmed
Congressional Report Criticizes Yucca Mountain Project
House Hearings on Water Infrastructure Vulnerability, Clean Water Regulations
Senate Panel Considers Regulation of Carbon Dioxide
New Material on Web Site

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Power Politics on Energy Policy
The newfound bipartisanship that Congress experienced after September 11th has been hard to find when it comes to energy policy. Debate has turned to battle in the Senate with filibusters as the weapon of choice.  Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has refused Republican demands to bring comprehensive energy legislation to the floor before Congress adjourns this session in December, arguing that the economic stimulus package, anti-terrorism and bioterrorism legislation, a farm reauthorization bill, and the remaining appropriation bills are more pressing.  In response to Daschle's promise to take up the energy issue soon after Congress reconvenes next year, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK) responded, "next year is not good enough."  Murkowski announced plans to use whatever procedural means necessary to bring energy legislation to the Senate floor before Christmas.  Senate Republicans lived up to this threat, making several attempts to attach the House-passed energy bill (H.R. 4), which includes a provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), as an amendment to pending legislation.  They first targeted the economic stimulus package, but when that stalled, all eyes moved to the Farm Bill (S. 1731).  When action on that was delayed, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) filed H.R. 4 as an amendment to a railroad pension bill (H.R. 10) that Daschle had put on the floor for consideration.  A scheduled cloture vote on December 3rd will decide whether the energy amendment will be considered.  Unlike a normal vote, the cloture vote requires a three-fifths majority to pass the Senate, reflecting a Democrat-threatened filibuster to block a vote on ANWR.  Republicans have used this tactic as well -- Murkowski has threatened to filibuster other bills if Daschle does not schedule floor debate on energy legislation before adjournment. More on the energy policy debate at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy.html.

Appropriations Process About to Wrap Up
As reported in a November 20th Special Update, most of the geoscience-related appropriation bills have made it through the budget process.  The president has signed eight of the thirteen appropriations bills into law. Most of the numbers for geoscience-related programs are at or, in some cases, well above the president's request, reflecting a mutual desire between the administration and Congress to complete action on these bills and move on to economic stimulus and other security measures related to September 11th.  In geoscience-related funding: the U.S. Geological Survey is up 3% over FY 2001, the Department of Energy's (DOE) Fossil Energy program is up 35%, DOE's Basic Energy Sciences program is up 1%, the National Science Foundation is up 8%, NASA Earth Science is up 6%, EPA Science and Technology is up just under 1%, and NOAA is up 5%.  One remaining appropriations bill of interest to the geosciences is Labor/HHS (H.R. 3061), which funds the Department of Education. It has been delayed in conference waiting for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- more information is available below on that bill's progress.  All signs point to Congress completing their action by the end of the first week in December and adjourning until late January.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2002.html.

Congress Works Through Education Jam
Action on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill (H.R. 1) has been stalled in Congress for months.  Since August, a House-Senate Conference Committee has met to hammer out differences between each chamber's version of the bill, which is the principal authorizing legislation for K-12 education program at the Department of Education (DoEd). They have been unable to get around several roadblocks, particularly with regard to testing and funding control.  An agreement was reached in the last week of November that will allow the ESEA bill to move forward, which in turn will allow the FY 2002 Labor/HHS appropriations bill to be passed by both chambers. According to a Washington Post article from November 28th, the compromise legislation would require millions of students to "undergo annual math and reading tests and school districts would gain more leeway in using federal education funds."  The article goes on to explain that the final version of the bill will include a Senate-introduced provision requiring states to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to a sample of fourth- and eight-grade students every other year.  Results from these students will be used, as a Republican summary states, to authenticate "the results of the statewide assessments" required by all students.  As part of the compromise, federal funding for states will not be associated with NAEP results.  The compromise would also reduce the federal control over funding specific programs.  State and local education agencies, instead of DoEd, will have the final say over how funds are allocated by schools to meet their goals and needs. In the new bill, professional development and science education programs formerly under the Eisenhower programs have been either eliminated or transformed into new programs. No definitive word yet on whether Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) Senate-passed resolution on evolution is in the bill. Negotiations have involved a small group of lawmakers with a lockdown on information about specifics. Even if the conference reaches a compromise, it is still far from certain that both chambers would act on the bill and send it to the president before adjourning.

NSF Wins Praise from OMB
At a time when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is looking at tightening the federal purse strings, OMB Director Mitch Daniels praised the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Weather Service as examples of excellent federal programs.  In remarks to the National Press Club, Daniels noted that NSF allocated more than 95 percent of its funding "on a competitive basis directly to researchers pursuing the frontiers of science" with "a very low overhead cost."  Daniels continued by saying: "Programs like this, and there are many, many others, that perform well, that are accountable to you as taxpayers for reaching for real results and measuring and attaining those results, deserve to be singled out, deserve to be fortified and strengthened."  The big question is how (or whether) this praise will translate when it comes times for funding NSF next year. OMB already has made clear that federal programs not related to the war effort will face substantial cuts in the FY 2003 budget request, which is due out in February 2002. Daniels's full remarks are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/2001-61.html.

Bush to Fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
On November 13th, President Bush ordered Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to its full capacity of 700 million barrels.  The President's directive will result in the addition of up to 108 million barrels of crude oil to the nation's emergency oil stockpile by way of an ongoing "royalty-in-kind" program, which allows producers operating leases on the federally owned Outer Continental Shelf to pay their royalties to the government in the form of oil instead of cash.  According to a press release issued by the Department of the Interior, the first deliveries of about 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day are set to begin in April, and will increase to about 130,000 barrels a day by October.  Secretary Abraham said that potential terrorism and the current military campaign in Afghanistan were not key factors in Bush's decision, which he referred to as "a wise policy" that is not associated with "any kind of specific disruption threat."  A statement by President Bush reported that "our current oil inventories, and those of our allies that hold strategic stocks, are sufficient to meet any potential near-term disruption in supplies," and that filling the reserve will "strengthen the long-term energy security of the United States."  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/spr.html.

New NASA Head Nominated, NOAA Head Confirmed
Making quick work of filling the top spot at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), President Bush announced his intention to nominate Sean O'Keefe to the position on November 14th. As Bush's Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, O'Keefe has been vocal in hearings on Capitol Hill about keeping NASA accountable for the sky-rocketing costs associated with several of the larger missions, especially the International Space Station.  O'Keefe served in the previous Bush administration as both the Chief Financial Officer of the Defense Department and as Secretary of the Navy.  Between his stints in government, O'Keefe was a professor of business and government policy at Syracuse University. No stranger to Capitol Hill, O'Keefe worked for the Senate Appropriations Committee for several years before going to the Defense Department under then-Secretary Dick Cheney. O'Keefe's confirmation is expected to move quickly through the Senate process once it is scheduled after the turn of the calendar year.  More information on O'Keefe and his previous testimony to Congress on NASA's spending is available from the American Institute of Physics at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2001/141.html.

In related news, the Senate has confirmed retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, heading up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After retiring from the Navy last year, Lautenbacher has been serving as president of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education.

Congressional Report Criticizes Yucca Mountain Project
Early in 2002, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is expected to make a recommendation to President Bush on Yucca Mountain as the site for the nation's high-level nuclear waste repository. Although many view a positive recommendation as a foregone conclusion, a critical report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) will add a new layer of controversy. GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, provides assessments of federal programs in support of the legislative branch's oversight role. The report, a draft of which was released to the Washington Post, concludes that the Department of Energy's timelines for the project are unrealistic and not based on adequate data. In particular, the report asserts that the project's principal contractor, Bechtel SAIC, has informed DOE that at least four years of additional work are required to address various unresolved issues before obtaining a presidential site recommendation or applying for a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission can proceed. Such a delay would push the repository's opening date well back from the currently planned 2010 target.

Abraham has called the GAO report "fatally flawed," accusing the agency of being heavily influenced by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who asked GAO to conduct the study. For his part, Reid has referred to its findings as "the beginning of the end" for the project. Earlier this year, GAO and the administration fought over the release of records from Vice President Cheney's energy task force, a dispute that was placed on hold after September 11th. The Yucca Mountain report should be available at http://www.gao.gov after its official release on December 11th. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/yucca.html.

House Hearings on Water Infrastructure Vulnerability, Clean Water Regulations
On November 14th, the House Science Committee held the fourth in a series of hearings on terrorism, this one on development of anti-terrorism tools for water infrastructure.  Scientists, water agency officials, and the Director of New York State's new Office of Public Security gave testimony supporting the Water Infrastructure Security and Research Development Act, H.R. 3178.  They also discussed the need for increased research aimed at the prevention and mitigation of physical and cyber threats facing drinking water and wastewater systems, and how to respond if a threat became a reality.  The bill, introduced by Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), would authorize $12 million per year for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide research grants for security of the nation's water infrastructure.  The Science Committee approved the bill in a session held the following day, and Boehlert said that he will try to get the bill to the House floor before the end of the year, possibly by attaching it to other legislation. A companion bill introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-VT), S. 1593, differs from the House version in that it would run for six years instead of five and includes a $20 million authorization to aid smaller communities in meeting the new 10 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic standard.

On November 15th, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the future of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program.  The Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water, G. Tracy Mehan, was the only witness. Mehan described EPA's re-evaluation of a controversial July 2000 rule and told the subcommittee that the agency plans to propose a new rule to comprehensively amend the TMDL program by the spring of 2002, and "promulgate a final rule before April 30, 2003."  In designing the new rule, EPA plans to provide states and tribes with "greater flexibility" and the ability to make use of market-based approaches, such as water pollution trading and economic incentives for early reductions, to minimize the cost of implementation.  EPA's rulemaking strategy also includes a series of listening sessions to gather ideas from the public on how to improve the TMDL program. More on both hearings at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/clean_water.html.

Senate Panel Considers Regulation of Carbon Dioxide
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held two hearings on legislation that would amend the Clean Air Act to require strict reductions in nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, and would reduce mercury and carbon dioxide emissions from power plants for the first time. The Clean Power Act (S. 556), referred to as the "four-pollutant" bill, was introduced by committee chairman Jim Jeffords (I-VT). A November 1st hearing explored how the legislation would affect the environment and the economy. A companion bill, H.R. 1256, was introduced in the House by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), also requiring large reductions in all four substances.  The Bush Administration, however, "strongly opposes" regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant because of the possible effect it could have on the coal industry.  Jeffrey Holmstead, top EPA air official, testified that the Administration will introduce its own multi-pollutant legislation "relatively soon," which will not include emissions cuts in carbon dioxide. At the second hearing, which took place on November 15th, Jeffords announced that he will delay a markup of his four-pollutant bill until February 2002, by which time the Bush Administration's three-pollutant legislation should be completed.  Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from electric utilities that would be directly affected by the bill, environment and public health advocates, coal miners, and pollution control technology companies.  Committee members opposed to S. 556 argued that the bill does not recognize important regional differences and would unfairly penalize Midwestern and Western states.  According to Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and George Voinovich (R-OH), the legislation would cause power plants to switch from coal to natural gas, resulting in massive job losses, economic damage, and price increases for electricity and natural gas.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/clean_air.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 Baker, AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern Catherine Macris and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Sources: American Institute of Physics, CNN, Congressional Greensheets, Denver Post, E&E News, House Appropriations Committee website, House Education and the Workforce Committee website, Last Vegas Sun, Senate Appropriations Committee website, USBudget.com, Washington Post, and White House website.

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

Posted December 3, 2001


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