Government Affairs Program

Monthly Review: NOVEMBER 1999


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 Passes Spending, Tax Bills Before Heading Home
National Academy Takes Issue With Draft EPA Standards for Yucca Mountain
Creationists Score A Victory in Oklahoma
Societies Gauge Congressional Climate Change Attitudes
Draft Report Issued on Public Land Fossil Management
Applications Accepted for Congressional Science Fellowships
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Congress Passes Spending, Tax Bills Before Heading Home
As reported in an AGI special update last week, Congress headed home for the holidays after reaching agreement with the White House on all remaining spending bills for fiscal year 2000. They will return to Washington on January 24th to begin the second session of the 106th Congress. Five bills were wrapped into an omnibus package that included funding for the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill also included $101 million for the purchase of the Baca Ranch in northern New Mexico, site of the world-famous Valles Caldera. The Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D program was a big winner, receiving a 9 percent increase -- not bad considering that the President requested a 11 percent cut, and the House passed a 27 percent cut. All budget numbers remain subject to change, however, thanks to the bill's inclusion of a 0.38 percent across-the-board cut to all federal agencies. Control over specific cuts was left to agency heads. President Clinton signed the bill on November 29th. Congress also passed a last-minute bill (H.R. 1180) extending a number of tax provisions that were set to expire. The bill included a one-year extension of the current suspension of the net income limitation on percentage depletion for marginal oil and gas wells. It also extended the research and experimentation tax credit for five years, allowing companies to offset a portion of their research expenditures. In the final hours before adjournment, many bills were passed that had been stuck behind the appropriations logjam, including H.R. 1528, the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1999, which now awaits the President's signature. The AGI special update is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/approps_omnibus1199.html.

National Academy Takes Issue With Draft EPA Standards for Yucca Mountain
The National Research Council (NRC) sent a letter report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this month on the agency's proposed site-specific environmental radiation protection standards for the potential high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. When Congress established the requirement for site-specific standards, it also directed EPA to commission a NRC study to guide the standards. The resulting report, Technical Bases for Yucca Mountain Standards, was released in 1995. This August, EPA finally proposed its site-specific standards for Yucca Mountain. The letter report, issued by the NRC's Board on Radioactive Waste Management, identifies four principal areas where the EPA proposed standards conflict with the earlier Research Council report: (1) EPA proposes dose-based standards whereas the NRC report recommends risk-based standards; (2) EPA bases these standards on a reasonably maximally exposed individual in contrast to the report's recommendation that they be based on a critical group that represents those that have the highest risk of exposure to repository releases; (3) EPA proposes a separate set of groundwater standards going against the report's conclusion that a single individual protection standard is enough to protect both those in the immediate Yucca Mountain Area, as well as the general public and global population; and (4) EPA notes that it would prefer to apply dose limits only up to 10,000 years, whereas the NRC report recommends that the limits be imposed until release and risk has peaked, which is estimated to be well past 10,000 years into the future. Once finalized, the EPA standards will be incorporated into U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing regulations for the repository. The Department of Energy would then be responsible for demonstrating compliance with the standards. The draft standards are available at http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/yucca/. The NRC letter report is available at http://www.nap.edu/books/NI000205/html/.

Creationists Score A Victory in Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee has voted to place a disclaimer in all new biology textbooks, asserting that evolution is a "controversial theory" and an "unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things." The disclaimer is identical to one placed in Alabama textbooks. Oklahoma's 540 public school districts may only purchase textbooks approved by the committee, all of whose members were appointed by Gov. Frank Keating (R). At a news conference, Keating defended the board's decision, noting that he did not think he was descended from a baboon. Scientists and civil rights groups in Oklahoma are mounting a campaign to overturn the board's decision, and the governor -- a possible Cabinet member were George W. Bush elected president -- has stated that the disclaimer may be "too broad."

Societies Gauge Congressional Climate Change Attitudes
AGI joined four other scientific societies to commission a study to determine congressional staff perceptions on the appropriate role of scientists and their organizations in global climate change policy debates. The public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard conducted two focus groups with Democratic and Republican staffers as well as individual interviews with senior staff. Participants responded to a series of questions and statements covering topics from how knowledgeable members of Congress are on the issue to where congressional staff receive their information on climate change. The firm's report compiled the comments and responses from the participants into general conclusions. Two key findings were that congressional staff appreciate communication, clarification and summary of scientific data on climate change by scientists and that "scientists have a role to play as credible, objective communicators and interpreters of data." The complete text of the report is available upon request from the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Draft Report Issued on Public Land Fossil Management
The federal land management agencies have issued a draft report to Congress entitled "Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal and Indian Lands." The report was requested by senators whose previous attempts at fossil legislation were rebuffed by the Clinton Administration. The draft states that fossils on federal lands are part of America's heritage and calls for greater efforts to protect and preserve fossils as well as their related data. The draft report is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/geology. The public comment period ended November 29th. For additional information, see the AGI action alert issued early in November at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/fossil_alert.html.

Applications Accepted for Congressional Science Fellowships
AGI and several of its member societies are now accepting applications for next year's congressional science fellowships, providing opportunities for qualified geoscientists to spend a year working as professional staff in congressional committees and the personal offices of representatives and senators. Application deadline for the AGI fellowship is February 1, 2000. Earlier this month, AGI mailed out flyers to 250 geoscience departments in all fifty states announcing fellowship opportunities at AGI, the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America. For further information and application deadlines, visit http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/csf.html, which includes links to the other societies. Stipends, application procedures, timetables, and deadlines vary. Geoscientists are encouraged to apply to all societies for which they qualify.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

Dec. 9-10

AGI Foundation Mtg.

Houston TX

Dec. 13-17

AGU Fall Mtg.

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 since the last monthly update:


Monthly review prepared by David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott.

Sources: Department of the Interior, Library of Congress, National Research Council, Washington Post.

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

Posted December 1, 1999


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