American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


August 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:

Looking Ahead: Appropriations Enter the Home Stretch
Oil Valuation Rule Debate Continues
AGI Supports Groat Nomination
California Science Standards Stir Up Controversy
Short Time Remains to Comment on Alaskan Oil Reserve
Summer Interns Wrap Up
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Looking Ahead: Appropriations Enter the Home Stretch
Having completed its traditional August escape from the Washington heat, the Senate is back in session this week, and the House returns next week. One of the first orders of business in the Senate was to modify controversial language in the Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which barred the Administration from engaging in any activities supportive of the Kyoto climate change accord. This revision, following a veto threat by the President, is one of many signs that we have entered the final stretch of the appropriations process. The President stakes out his position with his budget submission in February, Congress stakes out its position throughout the spring and summer, then the weeks leading up to the new fiscal year (which begins October 1) are marked by a grinding series of compromises. The geographic distance between the White House and the Capitol may be fixed at 1.5 miles, but we should start to see the far wider political distance between their respective occupants start to shrink in the coming weeks as both sides (with some notable exceptions) seek to avoid a government shutdown just before the elections.

Oil Valuation Rule Debate Continues
Both sides of the debate over how to calculate federal oil royalties can claim a victory, but the battle rages on. The General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on federal oil valuation in mid-August, supporting the proposed Minerals Management Service (MMS) rule to base royalty payments on the price determined between an oil producer and a willing buyer. The report -- requested by Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) -- finds that oil companies routinely receive more for oil than the price they provide to MMS for royalty calculation. In addition, the report states that the federal government does not have the right conditions to effectively take royalty in kind. The report is available on the GAO website . Only a few days after the release of the report, however, MMS announced that it will revise its rule, following months of meetings with the oil industry and Congress. According to Environment and Energy Weekly, the new rule would benefit independent oil producers in the Rocky Mountain area but does not move away from using downstream prices as a baseline, a major sticking point for industry. More on the royalty debate can be found on the AGI website: .

AGI Supports Groat Nomination
At the end of July, President Clinton named Chip Groat as the next Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, pending Senate confirmation. In order to urge that process ahead, AGI President Susan Landon and Executive Director Marcus Milling recently sent a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) expressing strong support for Groat and urging Murkowski to schedule a confirmation hearing as soon as possible. Similar letters were sent to the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-AR) and the other members of the Energy committee, urging support for Groat's confirmation. If the Senate does not vote on the nomination before the session adjourns in October, it could be February before Groat takes office.

California Science Standards Stir Up Controversy
A great deal of science policy is made in the states, especially science education policy. California recently unveiled draft standards for K-12 science education that require students to master large quantities of facts from an early age, for example introducing the periodic table of elements in the third grade. This approach turns away from recent curriculum reform efforts, such as the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards, that emphasize understanding concepts and learning science through discovery. Because California represents such a large market for textbook publishers, its standards will have a major impact on teaching materials nationwide. The American Physical Society is leading efforts to have the draft standards substantially revised. The full text of the draft standards is available at .

Short Time Remains to Comment on Alaskan Oil Reserve
In late August, GAP sent out an action alert on Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's announcement that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had completed an 18-month study on the feasibility of drilling in the northwest portion of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPR-A). The report recommends opening 4 million acres (87 percent) of the area studied for leasing. Development in 20 percent of that area deemed environmentally sensitive will be limited by prohibiting oil and gas surface pipelines but can be accessed though directional drilling. 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. The public comment period on the report lasts until September 8th, and geoscientists interested in this issue are encouraged to provide their input. The plan is available on the BLM website: . Comments can be submitted through the website, by e-mail to Jim Ducker: jducker@ak.blm.org, or by mail to: NPR-A Planning Team; Bureau of Land Management; Alaska State Office (930); 222 W. 7th Avenue #13; Anchorage AK 99513.

Summer Interns Wrap Up
Two of our three AGI/AIPG geoscience and public policy summer interns have completed their work and headed back to school. Shannon Clark has started the fall term at Southern Methodist University, where she is beginning graduate work in geoscience, and Margaret Baker will soon begin her senior year at Mount Holyoke College, where she is double-majoring in geology and Asian studies. In order to gain a better sense of the field of science policy, the interns met with scientists in a variety of policy roles, including congressional science fellows, U.S. Geological Survey leadership, and staff from the President's Council on Sustainable Development and the National Research Council. Please visit the government affairs section of AGI's web site to see the many summaries and reports the interns produced. Many thanks to Shannon and Margaret for their excellent work and best of luck with the fall semester!

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 meet for an informational session on Canadian geoscience and public policy on Saturday, October 24, from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Scott A Room of the Delta-Chelsea Hotel 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
Oct. 24GAP Advisory CommitteeToronto, Ontario

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 September 4, 1998


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