American Geological Institute

Government Affairs MONTHLY REVIEW


August 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.

Kansas School Board Drops Evolution
Congress Passes Tax Legislation, Oil and Gas Loan Guarantee
White House Releases Revised Draft Standards for Applying FOIA to Federal Grants
Mining Hearing Examines Current Controversies
Hearings Held on Natural Disaster Mitigation
Appropriations Process To Resume in Earnest
Texan Named As New Science Committee Ranking Democrat
AGI Accepting Applications for Spring Semester Internship
Congressional Fellow Returns to Kentucky, New Fellow Starts
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Kansas School Board Drops Evolution
On August 11th, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 in favor of science education standards that contain no mention of biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the universe. The board had earlier rejected standards developed by a 27-member panel of science educators based on the National Science Education Standards. The board then deadlocked over standards developed with the help of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America, which also assisted in developing the version that ultimately passed. As a result of the board's vote, evolutionary theory will not appear in state-wide standardized tests. It is up to the 305 local school districts in Kansas whether or not to teach evolution, Earth's deep history, or the Big Bang.

The only state official to testify at an open session before the board vote was newly appointed Kansas State Geologist Lee Allison, who emphasized the economic ramifications of turning back the clock on science education (his statement is available at http://www.kgs.ukans.edu/General/News/99_releases/sci_stand.html). The presidents of all six major public universities in Kansas wrote to the school board as well to express their opposition to the proposed standards. Governor Bill Graves (R) called the board's decision tragic. The American Geophysical Union sent out a press release from Executive Director Fred Spilhaus exhorting geoscientists to become more actively involved in local and state government (see http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/prrl/prrl9924.html). Just prior to the school board vote, AGU sent an e-mail alert to all of its members in Kansas urging them to make their voices heard (see http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list). Both AGU and the Geological Society of America will have special sessions and workshops on evolution at their upcoming national meetings.

AGI is encouraging its member societies to contact their Kansas members and urge them to get involved with their school boards. AGI President David Stephenson has written to the governor commending him and the Kansas Geological Survey for their vocal opposition to the new standards. AGI has been involved in discussions with other scientific societies about developing targeted approaches such as op/ed pieces in local Kansas newspapers and letter-writing campaigns. The October issue of Geotimes will feature a series of perspectives on the Kansas situation from geoscience community leaders along with columns addressing the ramifications from both public policy and curriculum development standpoints. For links to resources developed by the National Academy of Sciences and others as well as position statements developed by scientific societies (including AGI), please see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/evolution.html.

Congress Passes Tax Legislation, Oil and Gas Loan Guarantee
On August 5th, the House and Senate passed their final version of a 10-year, $792 billion tax bill (H.R. 2488). Because of its size, the bill faces a near-certain presidential veto but will form a framework for future negotiations with the Administration. Five oil and gas provisions are included within the bill, including five-year extension of the suspension of the net income limitation on percentage depletion for marginal wells (set to expire after this year); creation of a net operating loss carry back for five years for independent oil and gas producers; allowed expensing of delay rental payments; allowed expensing of geological and geophysical costs beginning in 2000; and suspension for six years of the current limitation on using percentage depletion in excess of 65 percent of net taxable income.

Separately, President Clinton signed H.R. 1664, the Emergency Steel Loan Guarantee and Emergency Oil and Gas Guaranteed Loan Act of 1999, into law on August 17th. The Senate passed the measure -- originally part of emergency supplemental appropriations legislation for the Kosovo conflict -- in late June, and the House passed it on August 4th. The bill provides guaranteed loans to assist companies distressed by low prices and foreign competition. Qualified independent oil and gas producers and service companies will be eligible for $500 million in guaranteed loans over two years with a maximum loan per company of $10 million. More on both topics at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/gastax106.html.

White House Releases Revised Draft Standards for Applying FOIA to Federal Grants
On August 11th, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a revised draft of its Circular A-110 governing federal grants with universities and other non-profit organizations. The revision was mandated by the "Shelby provision" inserted into last year's omnibus appropriations bill (Public Law 105-277), which made data obtained with federal grant money subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. OMB's initial draft revision in February drew over 9,000 responses, forty times more than normally received. According to the August 11 Federal Register notice, the revision was developed to clarify definitions for three key concepts -- "data", "published", and "used by the Federal Government in developing policy or rules" -- and provide additional background discussion on the issue of cost reimbursement. Comments on the revised draft must be received by September 10, 1999 and should be sent to F. James Charney, Policy Analyst, Office of Management and Budget, Room 6025, New Executive Office Building, Washington DC 20503 or by e-mail to grants@omb.eop.gov (must be made in the text of the message and not as an attachment). The full text of the current Circular A-110 as well as the February and August 1999 proposed revisions are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/OMB/grants/index.html. More on this issue at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/foia.html.

Mining Hearing Examines Current Controversies
Just before leaving for the August recess, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on mining law reform. The August 3rd hearing focused on two major issues both relating to legal opinions written by Department of the Interior Solicitor John Leshy. It continued several months of debate on Capitol Hill about the Crown Jewel Mine decision (see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/crownjewel.html) and the solicitor's opinion on the size of mill-site claims. The hearing also brought attention to another controversial decision regarding mineral exploration in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, 15 miles from the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. Fiscal and environmental mining law reforms were also discussed. A summary of that hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/miningup99.html#hearing.

Hearings Held on Natural Disaster Mitigation
On August 4th, the House Oversight, Investigations and Emergency Management Subcommittee held a hearing on the cost effectiveness of disaster mitigation spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant program. The hearing focused on the extent to which funded projects are reviewed to ensure they are cost effective. The hearing coincided with release of the General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the subject. Members of the committee and the GAO witness praised FEMA for its hazard mitigation and emergency response work and for its co-operation with GAO and responsiveness to the report's recommendations.

On July 30th, the House Banking and Financial Institutions Committee held a legislative hearing on H.R. 21, the Homeowners' Insurance Availability Act. The committee passed nearly identical legislation last session. Both support for and opposition to the bill were bipartisan. The majority of the insurance industry representatives who appeared before the committee at this hearing supported the proposal, but conflict still surrounds several components of the legislation including the triggers. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat testified in support of the bill's intent, but raised a series of concerns and offered a number of alternatives to the bill's current language. More on these hearings and legislation at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/mitigation.html.

Appropriations Process To Resume in Earnest
When Congress returns after Labor Day, one of the first orders of business for the Senate will be the Fiscal Year 2000 Interior appropriations bill, which includes funds for the U.S. Geological Survey and land management agencies. With less than a month left before the start of the new fiscal year, the Senate must debate provisions dealing with mining, oil and gas royalties, and other contentious issues in addition to determining spending levels. Several amendments are pending that would decrease the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy R&D programs to pay for energy conservation and land purchases. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee will unveil its version of the VA/HUD/Independent Agencies bill, funding the National Science Foundation, NASA, and EPA. The House version cut both NSF and NASA, and many in the science community are hoping that the Senate version will be more generous. AGI is joining with a number of other science and engineering societies to send letters to all senators and representatives, emphasizing the value of and need for adequate federal investment in research. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2000up.html.

Texan Named As New Science Committee Ranking Democrat
Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX) has been named to succeed the late Rep. George Brown as ranking minority member on the House Science Committee. Hall has been a member of the committee since coming to Congress in 1981. He chaired the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics from 1991-1994 and was its ranking member from 1995-96. Hall is a long-time proponent of the International Space Station, which remains his primary interest in the Science Committee. Hall is currently the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee's powerful Energy and Power Subcommittee, which is in the midst of efforts to deregulate the electric utility industry. The Democratic Caucus granted Hall a waiver so that he may continue in that role. Normally, representatives are only allowed to serve as chair or ranking member of one committee or subcommittee.

AGI Accepting Applications for Spring Semester Internship
AGI is seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for a fourteen-week geoscience and public policy internship in Spring 2000. Interns will gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. They will also hone both their writing and Web publishing skills. Stipends for the interns are funded jointly by AGI and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Geoscience students with an interest in energy and resource issues are particularly encouraged to apply. Applications must be postmarked by October 15, 1999. For more information on application materials and the internship, visit http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html.

Congressional Fellow Returns to Kentucky, New Fellow Starts
AGI's 1998-99 Congressional Science Fellow, Dr. David Wunsch, completed his tour of duty with the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in mid-August. He worked on a variety of issues for the committee including surface mining reclamation, the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act, and federal oil and gas royalty policy. Wunsch has returned to his previous jobs as a senior hydrogeologist with the Kentucky Geological Survey and adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky.

The 1999-2000 AGI fellow, Dr. Eileen McLellan, begins a three-week orientation on September 1st. The orientation, run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provides the new class of science and engineering fellows with a crash course in how Washington works. Following the orientation, fellows seek placement with congressional offices, a great many of which are eager for their services. McLellan is on sabbatical from the University of Maryland, where she is an associate professor of geology and director of the College Park Scholars Program in Environmental Studies. She credits an upbringing in the coal-mining region of northern England with a lifelong interest in balancing resource use and environmental protection.

The AGI fellowship is supported by a generous grant from the AGI Foundation. For more information, see http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/csf.html.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

Sep. 9-13

AGI Executive Cmte. Mtg.

Jackson WY

Sep. 14-15

Nuclear Waste Tech. Review Bd.

Alexandria VA

Sep. 22-25

New Mexico Geological Society

Albuquerque NM

Sep. 26-27

GAP Advisory Committee Mtg.

Alexandria VA

Oct. 24-27

GSA Annual Meeting

Denver CO

New Material on Web Site
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org since the last monthly update:


Monthly review prepared by David Applegate and AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Althea Cawley-Murphree

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

Posted September 2, 1999


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