American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


May 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 between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

This monthly update includes:

Congressional Exhibition of NSF-Sponsored Research
Senate Takes Action on NSF Nominee, Authorization
Appropriations Underway Without Final Budget Resolution
USGS Releases New Resource Estimates for ANWR
WIPP Nuclear Waste Disposal Site Set to Open in June
New Asbestos Study Questions Cancer Risk
AIPG Stages Second Washington Fly-In
Climate Change, Government Affairs Forums at AAPG
Web-based Geotrek Catalog Launched
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Congressional Exhibition of NSF-Sponsored Research
For the third year in a row, AGI and the American Geophysical Union joined forces to sponsor a booth at the Coalition for National Science Funding's Capitol Hill exhibition and reception showcasing research and education projects supported by the National Science Foundation. The event took place in the Rayburn House Office Building and was attended by a dozen Members of Congress and over 100 congressional staff. At the AGI/AGU booth, Paul Mayewski and Mark Twickler from the University of New Hampshire's Climate Change Research Center explained the lessons learned from ice-core research over the past decade as well as what they hoped to gain from future investigations. In addition to the AGI/AGU booth, member society National Association of Geoscience Teachers hosted a booth Working Toward More Effective Teaching in the Geosciences that featured its NSF-sponsored projects for undergraduate faculty enhancement and a distinguished lecture series.

Senate Takes Action on NSF Nominee, Authorization
In other NSF-related news, the Senate confirmed Dr. Rita Colwell as the new director of the National Science Foundation on May 29th. Colwell is currently the President of the University of Maryland's Biotechnology Institute and a Professor of Microbiology at the university. Dr. Colwell holds a Ph.D. in marine microbiology from the University of Washington. For those following congressional efforts to create a semi-autonomous National Institute for the Environment within NSF, Colwell was until her nomination on the Board of the Committee for NIE. Colwell's predecessor at NSF, Neal Lane, is expected to be confirmed as the President's science advisor in the next few weeks.

On May 12th, the Senate passed an NSF authorization bill for FY1998-2000. It authorizes $3.505 billion for NSF in 1998, providing the same 7.2% increase contained in the NSF authorization bill that passed the House in April. For fiscal year 1999, the bill authorizes $3.773 billion, and $3.886 billion in FY 2000. The bill is similar to a version (HR 1273) passed by the House last year, and the bill is expected to pass the House without debate.

Appropriations Underway Without Final Budget Resolution
The normal flow of the budget process is that the President releases the Administration's budget, the House and Senate both pass budget resolutions in March, these resolutions are reconciled in April, then the appropriations committees in each chamber take over and draft appropriations bills. It is hard to recall the last time the budget process was normal. This year, the Senate passed its rather moderate budget resolution for fiscal year 1999 in early April. The House, however, has not yet passed its version. The House resolution -- which was not introduced until mid-May -- would cut more than $100 billion over five years and specifies four goals: pay down the federal debt, save Social Security, eliminate the "marriage penalty" tax, and shrink the federal government by 1 percent. The bill sets spending levels much lower than the Senate or Administration budgets, and its passage is doubtful, as it has been criticized by Democrats and both moderate and conservative Republicans.

Because the House resolution was announced so late, the Senate went ahead and allocated funds to the appropriations subcommittees, who are now working on appropriations bills. Geoscience-related subcommittee allocations break down as follows: Agriculture: $13.7 billion in budget authority, compared to $13.8 billion enacted in FY98; Energy and Water (includes DOE) : $21.1 billion, compared to $20.7 billion in FY 98; Interior (includes USGS, MMS): $13.3 billion, compared to $13.8 billion in FY 98; VA, HUD (includes NSF, EPA and NASA): $70 billion, compared to $69 billion in FY 98; Labor, HHS, Education: $82.3 billion; Commerce, Judiciary, State (includes NOAA) $32.2 billion.

USGS Releases New Resource Estimates for ANWR
The USGS recently released a new assessment of the petroleum reserves available in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The study found that the 1002 area of ANWR contains between 11.6 and 31.5 billion barrels of oil, which is considerably higher than the results of their last major assessment conducted a decade ago. The USGS says the increase results from improved resolution of seismic data -- which indicated a larger number of petroleum accumulations -- and new information about petroleum occurrences in nearby wells drilled since the previous study. The analysis also used new geological data and the discovery of new oi l fields in the area. In addition, the new study found that most of the oil is concentrated in the western part of the area. The report, which is available on the USGS website, also gives a mean estimate of 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil, similar to figures in earlier estimates and higher than a preliminary estimate made in 1995 when opening ANWR for exploration was last proposed by Congress.

WIPP Nuc lear Waste Disposal Site Set to Open in June
On May 13th, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) had cleared a final bureaucratic hurdle and is ready to receive waste. More than two decades after it was initially proposed, this underground facility in bedded salt near Carlsbad, New Mexico may actually serve its purpose of interring plutonium-contaminated waste from the defense nuclear weapons complex. EPA gave WIPP the green light when it issued certification that WIPP meets standards to protect public health and the environment from the effects of radiation exposure and contamination. The May 20th publication of the EPA certification in the Federal Register initiated a 30-day waiting period before WIPP shipments and disposal operations can begin. The opening date is set tentatively for June 19. Environmentalists, however, have vowed to use legal action to block the waste shipments, and lawsuits are expected any day now.

N ew Asbestos Study Questions Cancer Risk
Asbestos removal is a $4-6 billion per year industry and continues to be the subject of numerous pieces of legislation. But a new study in the May 28th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that regulations based on Environmental Protection Agency models that extrapolate from heavy industrial exposure may overestimate the risk of cancer from exposure to asbestos by an order of magnitude. The study tracked thousands of women in Quebec who live in the vicinity of chrysotile asbestos mines, finding no increase in lung cancer rates compared to other women in the province despite exposure to levels of asbestos dust many times above maximum limits set for asbe stos workers. The results should hearten the many geologists who contend that regulations fail to distinguish between a number of unrelated asbestiform minerals, which have significantly different health effects. But the study's conclusions met with sharp criticism from Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, a long-time proponent of the EPA standards, who told The Washington Post flatly: "All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic."

AIPG Stages Second Washington Fly-In
Members of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) came to Washington in May for three days of meetings with Congress and federal agencies, as well as Washington-based issue groups. AGI was pleased to provide logistical support for the fly-in, and we applaud AIPG for its efforts to mobilize its members as active constituents on Capitol Hill. AIPG invites other AGI member societies to consider this event as a template for their own future efforts.

Climate Change, Government Affairs Forums at AAPG
At the AAPG Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, the Division of Environmental Geosciences held a special forum on "Global Warming: What are the Obligations of the Petroleum Industry?" The well-attended forum featured climatologists Richard Lindzen of MIT and Michael McCracken of the U.S. Global Change Research Program as well as petroleum industry executives David Jenkins of British Petroleum and Skip Mick of Marathon Oil. As part of ongoing effort to facilitate dialogue on this important issue, AGI provided underwriting support for the forum.

Also at the AAPG convention, Clint Moore organized a Division of Professional Affairs forum later in the week to discuss policy issues of concern to AAPG's membership. Speakers included George Yates, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America; Kansas State Geologist Lee Gerhard; Oklahoma State Geologist Charlie Mankin; and Dave Applegate of AGI.

Web-based Geotrek Catalog Launched
A key feature of AGI's National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS) project, the web-based catalog of data holdings, is now available to the public at www.agiweb.org/NGDRS. The NGDRS is a system of geoscience data repositories, providing information about their respective holdings accessible through a web-based supercatalog. The catalog lists the holdings of participating public and private geoscience data repositories. Users may browse and select data visually or through searches on specfic criteria. The goal of the supercatalog is to provide users information about the vast holdings of geoscience data, the quality, quantity, and location of that data, as well as general information about the attribute fields of the data. The NGDRS project is jointly sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the petroleum industry and operated by AGI.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
The GAP Advisory Committee last met at the AAPG annual meeting in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 16th. Minutes will be available in the near future.

June 14-16 AASG Annual Meeting Portland ME
June 30 PPP 2000 Forum Washington DC
July 29-31 CESSE Meeting Chicago IL

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 Kasey Shewey and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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

Uploaded June 2, 1998


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