American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


July 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:

President's Science Advisor, Energy Secretary Confirmed
New Science Doubling Bill Passes Senate Committee
Senate OK's Strategic Petroleum Reserve Purchase
Babbitt to Open National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska
USGS, EPA Nominations
NSF Survives Ill-Conceived Attempt to Block Funding
Update on Appropriations
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

********************

President's Science Advisor, Energy Secretary Confirmed
On July 31st, the Senate confirmed Neal Lane as Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. A letter from scientific society presidents was sent earlier that week to Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) asking for swift confirmation. Several AGI member society presidents were among the signatories. Lane's confirmation allows his successor at NSF, Dr. Rita Colwell, to assume her duties there. Although confirmed in May, she has been unable to start until Lane was confirmed in his new job.

That same day, the Senate also confirmed Bill Richardson as Secretary of Energy. Both nominations passed without objection. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) had threatened to block the Richardson nomination unless the President provided a letter indicating that Richardson would have authority to deal with the issue of high-level nuclear waste. The Administration provided such a letter last week, allowing the nomination to move forward. Richardson was most recently US Ambassador to the United Nations and before that was a Member of Congress from New Mexico.

New Science Doubling Bill Passes Senate Committee
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed S. 2217, the Federal Research Investment Act, by voice vote on July 29. Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space chair Bill Frist (R-TN) and subcommittee ranking member John Rockefeller (D-WV) -- cosponsors of the bill -- as well as most other members spoke in favor of the bill and the need to increase science funding. The only dissenting remarks were by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), who expressed concerns about finding the funds to pay for the bill, and Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), who questioned the cost. The bill would double non-defense R&D funding over 12 years and includes research in the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, and the Interior, NIH, NSF, NIST, NASA, NOAA, and EPA.

Senate OK's Strategic Petroleum Reserve Purchase
In an effort to provide some price relief for the domestic petroleum industry, the Senate has passed a provision giving the Secretary of Energy emergency authority to purchase oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). An amendment to the Treasury and General Government appropriations bill would provide $420 million for the purchase, which could amount to as much as 35 million barrels of oil. The amendment was offered by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK). The House version of the legislation, which passed in mid-July, does not include a similar provision, and a House-Senate conference will decide whether it will be included in the final bill sent to the President. If enacted, the purchase will reverse the trend in recent years to sell SPR oil to reduce the deficit. The last such sale was cancelled this past May in response to falling prices.

Babbitt to Open National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska
In other energy news, the New York Times reports that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on August 6th will announce the opening for exploration of 4.6 million acres in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPR-A). The American Association of Petroleum Geologists recently adopted a position in favor of exploration and development in NPR-A. The Minerals Management Service estimates that the northeast corner contains a mean of 3.1 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 9.9 trillion cubic feet of gas.

USGS, EPA Nominations
As reported in an earlier special update, President Clinton has nominated Charles G. "Chip" Groat to be the next Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Sources at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources indicate that committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) hopes to conduct hearings on Groat before Congress recesses for the year in October. Groat must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming his new position. He is currently Associate Vice President for Research and Sponsored Projects at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Another nomination of interest to the geoscience community is that of Norine E. Noonan who has been nominated for Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Noonan is currently the Vice President for Research and the Dean of the Graduate School at the Florida Institute of Technology. Previously, she spent a decade with the White House Office of Management and Budget, the last five (from 1987 to 1992) as Chief of the Science and Space Programs Branch.

NSF Survives Ill-Conceived Attempt to Block Funding
On July 29, the House passed the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill, which provides an 8 percent increase for NSF. The agency's funds were threatened during the floor debate when Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) offered an amendment to cut NSF's budget by $270 million, an amount he feels is funding frivolous research. In a "Dear Colleague" letter, he mentioned several projects he felt were particularly egregious. These projects included research to study "billiards," "collaborative activity on poker," "cheap talk," and ATM's. Early support for his amendment vanished after several Republican colleagues took to the floor to defend NSF, including physicist Vern Ehlers (R-MI), who explained that "billiards" means the theory of rigid body collisions used in turbulent flow. Moreover, "poker" refers to research on social interaction used to study decision-making processes, economic models use "cheap talk" in describing the cost of information, and ATM's are asynchronous transfer modes critical to the Internet's future. Another colleague, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), noted: "The poet Alexander Pope remarked centuries ago that a little learning is a dangerous thing. This amendment is a good example of that principle.... [L]et us not make the mistake of judging a grant by its title." The Appropriations subcommittee chair, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), made his intentions clear when he said: "Let me suggest simply that the National Science Foundation is among the committee's and the Congress's very high priorities." The Sanford amendment was defeated by voice vote.

Update on Appropriations
Since the GAP mid-July update on appropriations, Congress has been busy trying to pass bills before its August recess. More information on these bills is available on the AGI website . The House passed the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies spending bill for NASA, NSF, and EPA on July 29. The amounts agreed to by the House follow the Appropriations Committee recommendations of $13.3 billion for NASA, $3.7 billion for NSF, and $7.4 billion for EPA.

The Interior and Related Agencies bill passed the House on July 23, with no major changes to the USGS budget of $774.8 million. Several amendments decreased funding for fossil energy R&D by $5 million. The bill is still under a veto threat from the Administration, and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt held a press conference to denounce the bill, saying: "They're ...starving our parks, refuges, public lands, science, Indian schools and natural resources. And they're doing it quietly without any debate."

On July 23, the Senate passed S. 2260 (S. Rpt. 105-235), its version of the FY 1999 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill. The bill provides $2.2 billion for NOAA, above the Administration's request of $2.1 billion. The committee also appropriated $3.5 million for establishing a Commission on Ocean Policy approved by the Senate in S.1213, the Oceans Act of 1997. On July 15, the House Appropriations Committee approved H.R. 4276, which provides a marginal increase in overall spending for NOAA to a total of $2.01 billion.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
The next meeting of the GAP Advisory Committee will take place at AGI headquarters on September 17-18. The committee will also hold an informational session on Canadian geoscience and public policy on Saturday, October 24, at the GSA Annual Meeting in Toronto.

Sep. 16 NSGIC Meeting Annapolis MD
Sep. 17-18 GAP Adv. Cmte. Alexandria VA
Sep. 20-23 AASG Liaison Cmte. Washington DC
Oct. 4-7 AIPG Annual Mtg. Baton Rouge LA
Oct. 11-14 AAPG/DEG Conference Taos NM
Oct. 11-17 National Earth Science Week

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 and Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs

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

Posted August 5, 1998


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