American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


February 1998


This monthly update goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee as well as the leadership of AGI's member societies and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications betw een GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

February began with the release of the President's budget request for Fiscal Year 1999 and concluded with several hundred scientists and engineers, geoscientists among them, visiting their congressional delegations in support of increased federal investme nt in research. As reported in an earlier special update, the President's request includes strong boosts for many science agencies but created controversy over funding sources. Geoscience programs at the National Science Foundation and Department of Energ y fared well as did parts of the U.S. Geological Survey, but the USGS Geologic Division would be reduced, including cuts to programs for geologic mapping, coastal studies, mineral resources, and energy resources. For more on these and other geoscience age ncies, the special budget update is on the web. Although not strictly a February event, Interior Secretary Babbitt announced yesterday that the USGS will stay in Menlo Park for at least anothe r ten years.

This monthly update includes:

Strong Geoscience Contingent at Congressional Visits Day
Babbitt Announces USGS to Stay in Menlo Park
AGI Hosts Ad Hoc Workshop on Geoscience and Public Policy
AGI Testimony on DOE Strategic Energy Plan
Superfund Legislation Moves Toward Committee Votes
GAP Staff Meet with NSF Geoscience Directorate
Concerns Over Field Trip Access to National Forests
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Strong Geoscience Contingent at Congressional Visits Day
Fourteen geoscientists were among the 200-plus scientists and engineers who visited Washington last week to participate in the third annual Science and Technology Congressional Visits Day event. On Wednesday, the group was briefed by both Administration a nd congressional leaders, among them outgoing President's science advisor Jack Gibbons, National Science Foundation Director (and Gibbons' replacement) Neal Lane, Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Phil Gramm (R-TX), and Representatives Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and George Brown (D-CA). On Thursday, the scientists and engineers visited their representatives and senators as well as committee staff. Geoscientists visited members from Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia. The event wa s organized by the Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group and the Coalition for Technology Partnerships with overall messages emphasizing the value of federal investment in science and technology as well as the importance of partnerships between govern ment, academia, and the private sector. Background briefing materials and other information on this event are available on the web.

Babbitt Announces USGS to Stay in Menlo Park
Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt announced a long-term lease that will keep the USGS in Menlo Park, California for at least another ten years. He made the announcement at an all-employees meeting at the Menlo Park campus and was accompanied by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D), in whose district the facility lies, and USGS Acting Director Tom Casadevall. Due to high rent costs in the Bay area, Babbitt requested an internal review of the USGS Menlo Park leases last August. In October, a six-member External Revie w Panel formed to evaluate the alternatives developed by the internal team and to present a set of recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior about the future of the USGS facility. In addition to the renegotiated lease, which extends ten years, the Panel's recommendations call for USGS to continue to consolidate its programs and operations into federally owned space and to develop a longer-term, integrated science and facility plan for Menlo Park.

AGI Hosts Ad Hoc Workshop on Geoscience and Public Policy
A two-day ad hoc workshop on the role of geosciences in public policy was held on February 17-18 at the American Geological Institute and the U.S. Geological Survey. The workshop was attended by representatives of the USGS Geologic Division, several dire ctors of State geological surveys, and other geoscientists in public policy positions at the National Research Council, White House Office of Science and Technology, and the U.S. Senate. The purpose of the workshop was to carry out an informal discussion of how geoscience information could more effectively be used in policy decisions affecting natural hazards, resources, and environmental issues. Participants identified a number of recommended activities to improve public and policy awareness of the geos ciences, including greater participation in the PPP 2000 natural hazard reduction forums, establishing a series of similar forums on geoscience issues, enhancing the use of interpersonnel agreements (IPA's) to make geoscience expertise available to other mission agencies and Congress, demonstration projects for end-user applications of geoscience information, and efforts coordinated by AGI to better market geoscience information. In response to these discussions, AGI is making arrangements to sponsor a P PP 2000 forum on real-time hazards monitoring.

AGI Testimony on DOE Strategic Energy Plan
On February 19th, AGI Executive Director Marcus Milling testified before Secretary of Energy Federico Pena at a hearing in Washington, DC on the Department of Energy's draft national energy policy plan known as the "Comprehensive National Energy Strategy. " Two additional hearings were held in Houston, Texas and Davis, California to solicit input on the draft plan, which outlines five major goals. Milling's testimony focused on the second of these -- ensuring against energy disruptions -- discussing the vi tal role of geoscience research, particularly in fossil energy. He also discussed DOE's role in establishing the National Geoscience Data Repository System and the system's potential benefit for maintaining domestic production. The draft plan is availabl e on the web at . Milling's testimony is available on the AGI web site.

Superfund Legislation Moves Toward Committee Votes
Republicans named Superfund reform as one of their top ten legislative priorities for this year, and committees in both the House and Senate are moving toward passage of reform bills. But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has indicated that the le gislation is unlikely to make it through the full Senate in the time remaining, and leading Senate Democratic supporters have privately stated that the overall prospects for passage are dim. The operative bill in the Senate is S. 8, introduced by Senate E nvironment and Public Works Committee chair John Chafee (R-RI) and Superfund subcommittee chair Bob Smith (R-NH). Despite marathon negotiating sessions between Chafee's staff and both committee minority staff and EPA, serious sticking points remain, and a markup scheduled for the first week in March was postponed indefinitely while highway legislation is being considered by the Senate.

In the House, separate pieces of legislation are moving forward in two different committees. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee will hold a markup on March 4th of H.R. 2727, introduced by subcomm ittee chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). The next day, the House Commerce Committee's Finance and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee chair Michael Oxley (R-OH) will hold hearings on his bill, H.R. 3000. Geoscientists have raised concerns over several of the p rovisions in these bills, specifically its definition of "environmental professional" exclusive of geoscientists and the use of ASTM standards. AGI is working to learn more about the legislation and ensure that input from geoscientists is included in the discussions.

GAP Staff Meet with NSF Geoscience Directorate
Following the release of the President's budget, GAP staff had an opportunity to meet with Bob Corell, head of the NSF Geosciences Directorate, and representatives from Earth, Atmospheric, and Ocean Sciences Divisions. Corell noted his pleasure at the 12 .2 percent increase for the directorate in the President's request, which will help to alleviate stresses on the system such as shrinking grant size and duration. Corell emphasized the directorate's participation in several NSF-wide initiatives, includin g Life in Earth's Environment, Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence, and education. The directorate remains heavily involved in the U.S. Global Change Research Program as well as the ongoing national climate assessment process. In addition to the good budgetary news, congressional concerns over the location of the proposed Polar Cap Observatory have been addressed, allowing the first two phases to go ahead as planned. The directorate is represented on an internal study team looking into the creation of a National Institute for the Environment within NSF. The study was required by Congress as part of last year's appropriations bill and is expected to be completed later this spring.

Concerns Over Field Trip Access to National Forests
AGI and member societies have received several complaints this past year from geologic field trip leaders concerning entry onto Forest Service lands, specifically incidents in which they were told that they were considered to be outfitters and would need to obtain permits to conduct field trips. Because of the importance of these activities to their membership, the Geological Society of America asked GAP to look into the matter. John Dragonetti then initiated contact with Forest Service geologists and oth er personnel in an attempt to determine the extent of the problem. A memo was developed for GSA along with an article that will appear in an upcoming issue of GSA Today.

As it currently stands, Forest Service regulations classify geologic field trips as recreational activities, hence field trips are subject to recreational rules. Because of mounting environmental concerns and the need to protect national resources and art ifacts within the public domain, Congress and the Executive branch are insisting that public land managers substantially improve their supervision of federal properties. Therefore, in 1995, the Forest Service adopted more rigorous policies governing acces s to the National Forests. At the same time, Forest Service personnel have observed increased activities on their managed lands by numerous recreational, hobby and educational groups. The heightened occupancy and broadened congressional mandate are expect ed to magnify the controversy. While the Forest Service has developed guidelines for use throughout the National Forest system, the manager of an individual Forest may feel the need to adopt more stringent requirements to limit overcrowding within specifi c areas. It is, therefore, highly recommended that communication be established between field trip organizers and forest personnel to increase their awareness and understanding of geoscience activities, and to establish a better working relationship betwe en the geological community and forest personnel. In that context, AGI is maintaining its connection with Forest Service recreation managers at national headquarters with the prospect of developing an agreement to ease access to the national forests for g eoscience purposes.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
The GAP Advisory Committee met on February 27, 1998 at AGI headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Minutes from the meeting will be available on the AGI web site in the near future. The next meeting will be at the AAPG annual meeting in Salt Lake City in M ay.

March 4 House Interior Approps. Subcmte. Testimony Washington DC
March 16-18 AASG Spring Meeting Washington DC
March 19-21 AGI Foundation Meeting Sedona AZ
April 2-3 GSA Geology & Public Policy Cmte. Mtg. Washington DC
April 4 AGI Congr. Fellow Selection Cmte. Mtg.Alexandria VA

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


(Contributed by David Applegate, John Dragonetti, and Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs)

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

Uploaded March 3, 1998


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