Monthly Review: December 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.

Bush-Cheney Cabinet Appointments In High Gear
106th Congress Finishes Last of Spending Bills, Goes Home
Senate Holds Hearing on Natural Gas Market
Evolution Questioned in Pennsylvania Science Standards
New Mexico's Tent Rocks Considered for National Monument, Others Proposed
Senators Work to Increase Funding for DOE Science
USGS and FEMA Join Forces to Reduce Natural Hazard Losses
MMS Seeks Comments on Outer Continental Shelf Leasing
Applications Accepted for Congressional Science Fellowships
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Bush-Cheney Cabinet Appointments In High Gear
With the appropriations process complete and the presidential election officially over, the transition to a Bush-Cheney administration has moved to center stage. One of the first appointments was City College of New York geology major (and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Colin Powell as Secretary of State. Of particular interest to the geosciences, former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton has been nominated to head the Department of the Interior, which includes the U.S. Geological Survey. Norton previously worked at Interior as associate solicitor during the Reagan administration under James Watt. Other geoscience-related Cabinet appointments include New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and defeated Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) as Secretary of Energy. President-elect Bush has yet to name his science advisor. A geoscientist is reported to be under consideration for NASA Administrator. Former senator, Apollo astronaut, and Ph.D. geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt is a top contender to replace Dan Goldin, who was originally appointed by the president-elect's father in 1992.

Other positions important to the geosciences, such as the Director of the National Science Foundation, have fixed terms and will not change with the new administration. Although not given a fixed term, the USGS Director by tradition does not change with new administrations, and leading geoscientists are working to see that this tradition is maintained. For more on the transition process and how to get involved, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/transition.html.

106th Congress Finishes Last of Spending Bills
An AGI special update on December 22nd reported on the completion of five remaining fiscal year (FY) 2001 appropriations bills. The bills were signed by President Clinton on December 26th, nearly three months after the start of the new fiscal year. One of the biggest winners in the final bills was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Core funding for NOAA programs totaled $2.6 billion, a 4.2 percent decrease from the budget request but a 13 percent increase from last year's allocation.  Similar to the Land and Water Conservation Fund money that helped boost funding for the USGS, H.R.4577 provides NOAA with an additional $420 million in a new account for coastal and ocean activities. When these additional funds are included in the NOAA allocation, the agency received a total of $3.1 billion, an increase of close to 15 percent over the budget request and close to 35 percent over last year's funding level. The special update is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/final2001approps.html. More information about all the FY 2001 spending bills can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2001.html.

Senate Holds Hearing on Natural Gas Market
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an unusual lame-duck session hearing on December 12th to discuss the current price spikes in natural gas and home-heating oil. Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) commented on the need in the 107th Congress to look at the entire energy portfolio -- economics, national security, environment, federal and state regulations, and consumption.  In response to a colleague's bombast, Murkowski stated that the next Congress will need to work in a bipartisan manner and that it is the Senate's obligation to get the energy policy straight.  Witnesses included representatives from the Energy Information Administration, the National Association of State Energy Officials, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and the American Gas Association.  A summary of the hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/oil_price_hearing.html.

Evolution Questioned in Pennsylvania Science Standards
Scientists in Pennsylvania have raised an alarm about that state's proposed science education standards, which call for teaching alternative theories to evolution. Pennsylvania's current standards are some of the best in the country, and an early version of the revised standards -- which mandate the teaching of evolution -- was widely praised by science educators. But the state Board of Education made a number of changes in July, requiring that students "analyze ... studies that support or do not support the theory of evolution" and requiring teachers to present theories that "do and do not support the theory of evolution." The state legislature must approve the new standards, and hearings are expected in February. According to a December 3rd article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, one state senator who supported the revised standards linked evolution to Marxism and Communism.

New Mexico's Tent Rocks Considered for National Monument
Geoscientists in New Mexico have been actively supporting a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to give national monument status to Tent Rocks -- a site in north-central New Mexico where million-year-old pumice and tuff deposits have been intricately sculpted by erosion. The area is currently designated as a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Unlike a number of recent national monument designations, this proposal has strong support from nearby local governments and Native American tribes, as well as the New Mexico congressional delegation. Commissioners in the three surrounding counties have signed resolutions requesting the designation. More on the site at http://www.nm.blm.gov/www/aufo/tent_rocks/tent_rocks.html. Although Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt toured the area in mid-December, no designation has been made.

A unique sandstone formation in Montana known as Pompeys Pillar was one of several new national monuments Babbitt did propose on December 22nd. Also proposed was a 149-mile, free-flowing stretch of the Missouri River in Montana. Both sites are associated with the 1803 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Another proposed monument would include a segment of the San Andreas fault along California's Carrizo Plain.

Senators Work to Increase Funding for DOE Science
Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK) have started a movement to gather support in the Senate to increase funding for the Office of Science at the Department of Energy.  The Office of Science hosts the Office of Basic Energy Science http://www.sc.doe.gov/production/bes/bes.html, which received $1 billion this fiscal year, including approximately $25 million for geoscience research.  Joined by 22 colleagues, Bingaman and Murkowski sent a letter to the White House highlighting the importance of the research at the Office of Science to the physical sciences.  According to the American Institute of Physics, efforts are underway for scientists to write the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in order to help bolster the program's funding for FY 2002.  More at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2000/fyi00.142.htm.

USGS and FEMA Join Forces to Reduce Natural Hazard Losses
The USGS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on December 13th that the two agencies will partner as part of FEMA's Project Impact, a community-based pre-disaster mitigation program.  Project Impact began as a pilot program in 1997 with seven communities. Today there are more than 200 Project Impact communities in nearly every state.  According to the press release, the agencies will promote improved disaster recovery and mitigation in areas around the nation by applying "science to better understand and prepare for the natural events that cause natural disasters."  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/mitigation.html.

MMS Seeks Comments on Outer Continental Shelf Leasing
In the December 12th Federal Register, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) published a request for comments on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program to help develop a new five-year program (2002-2007) and an environmental impact statement. The comment period ends on February 1, 2001. Public comment periods are the principal mechanism for federal agencies to receive feedback on draft rules, regulations, and policies before they are put into final form and officially promulgated. It is important that the geoscience community plays a part in the development of policies regarding the nation's outer continental shelf.

Mail comments and information to: 5-Year Program Manager, Minerals Management Service (MS-4400), Room 2324, 381 Elden Street, Herndon, Virginia 20170.  Please label your comments and the packaging in which they are submitted as to subject matter: mark those pertaining to program preparation, "Comments on Preparation of the 5-Year Program for 2002-2007;" and mark those pertaining to EIS preparation, "Scoping Comments on the EIS for the 5-Year Program for 2002-2007."  Comments on the preparation of the program can be e-mailed to MMS5-year.document@mms.gov and comments concerning the scope of the environmental impact statement to MMS5-year.eis@mms.gov. More information on the comment period and general background information on the program are available at http://www.mms.gov.

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, 2001. Similar fellowships are available from 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.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
Jan. 26    NRC Natural Disasters Roundtable    Washington DC
March 23-24    AGI Associates Conference Denver CO
May 1-2   SET Congressional Visits Day Washington DC

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 David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Sources: American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, FEMA, MMS, National Center for Science Education, NOAA, Philadelphia Inquirer, Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, USBudget.com, USGS, Washington Post, and White House.

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

Posted January 2, 2001


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