American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


January 1999


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.

AGU Releases Climate Change Statement
Hutchison Introduces Oil Industry Relief Bill
Plans Introduced to Redirect OCS Funds
Research Doubling Efforts Begin Again
BLM Accepting Comments on Grand Staircase Management Plan
USGS Streamgaging Report to Congress
Nuclear Waste Legislation Given High Priority
Gee Named To Head DOE Fossil Energy
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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AGU Releases Climate Change Statement
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) held a press conference on January 28th at the National Press Club to release its position statement on climate change. While acknowledging that uncertainties still exist in understanding climate change, the statement concludes that "the present level of scientific understanding does not justify inaction in the mitigation of human-induced climate change and/or the adaptation to it." The statement calls for an increase in research along with development of strategies to reduce emissions, sequester greenhouse gases, and prepare society to cope with the impacts of climate change.

The statement has received wide press coverage in the press with stories in the New York Times, Washington Times, Detroit Free Press, and others. Reaction to the statement has been mixed. In a news release, Vice President Gore cited the AGU statement as further reinforcement that "the risks of climate change are serious, the costs of potential impacts are large, and the time to act to protect our national interests is now." The statement has generated criticism from some advocacy groups on both sides of the global warming debate either for going too far or not far enough. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group promoting free enterprise and limited government, issued a press release stating that "AGU has betrayed science and embraced politics."

The AGU statement was developed by a panel chaired by Dr. Tamara Ledley, senior scientist at TERC in Cambridge MA. It was approved unanimously by the AGU Council at its December 1998 meeting in San Francisco. The full statement is available on the web at: www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/climate_change.html. Several of AGI's member societies are currently developing policy statements on the issue of climate change. A statement approved by the AGI Executive Committee will be distributed to the member societies next week for their endorsement.

Hutchison Introduces Oil Industry Relief Bill
Also on January 28th, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced S. 325, the U.S. Energy Economic Growth Act, to encourage domestic production of oil and gas. The bipartisan bill has 18 original co-sponsors, many of whom attended a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that day on the state of the domestic industry. The legislation provides tax credits for marginal wells -- those that produce 15 barrels a day or less. These wells are the most vulnerable to being shut down, yet collectively produce 20 percent of the nation's oil, the same amount currently imported from Saudi Arabia. The tax credits would be phased out as prices increased. The legislation also would provide a tax exemption for the costs of restarting inactive wells, based on the success of a similar state program in Texas. Other incentives include the expensing of geological and geophysical costs associated with domestic exploration. At the hearing, Hutchison reported that the oil and gas rig count hit an all-time low this week of 588 rigs nationwide, down from nearly 5,000 rigs operating in 1981. In constant dollars, crude oil prices are at their lowest point since World War II with prices as low as $6 per barrel being reported. Thousands have lost their jobs in recent weeks, and additional layoffs are expected. At the hearing, Energy Information Administration director Jay Hakes stated that prices were not expected to rise until the end of this year at the earliest.

Plans Introduced to Redirect OCS Funds
One of the first bills introduced in the Senate during the 106th Congress was S. 25, the Reinvestment and Environmental Restoration Act of 1999 by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The bill was introduced with nine cosponsors, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). The bill would redirect half of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas revenues from the federal treasury to states and conservation programs. Coastal states would share 27 percent of the royalties for OCS impact assistance. The remainder of the royalties would be divided among all states: 16 percent would go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and 7 percent would go to state fish and wildlife conservation programs. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the bill on January 27th, at which witnesses from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alaska testified in support of the bill. The Clinton Administration has proposed a similar, but larger, program -- the Lands Legacy Initiative, which increases funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase land and provide grants to states for conservation projects.

Research Doubling Efforts Begin Again
Last year, efforts to increase funding for research and development ended on a high note as the Senate passed S. 2217, a bill to authorize a doubling of federal, non-defense R&D over 12 years. Taking advantage of the momentum the bill gained, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) joined with 19 bipartisan cosponsors to introduce the bill in the 106th Congress as S. 296, the Federal Research Investment Act. Among the 14 agencies included in the bill are NSF, NASA, NOAA, EPA, and the Departments of the Interior, Transportation, Energy, Agriculture, and Education. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House in the near future.

BLM Accepting Comments on Grand Staircase Management Plan
President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah over two years ago, setting aside the lands as "exemplary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists." The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which was charged by the original presidential proclamation to develop a management plan within three years. BLM is currently accepting comments on a draft plan that includes several alternatives. Given the monument's creation for scientific purposes, a number of geoscientists have raised concerns over restrictions on access for research and education. The draft plan is available on the web at www.ut.blm.gov/monument. Comments will be accepted by BLM until February 12, 1999.

USGS Streamgaging Report to Congress
The US Geological Survey's Water Resources Division has released a congressionally mandated report evaluating the Survey's streamgaging network. The report was requested by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, noting "the steady decline in the number of streamgaging stations in the past decade, while the need for streamflow data for flood forecasting and long-term water management uses continues to grow." The streamgaging network is funded by a range of state, local, and federal partners with only one-third of funding from the USGS itself. The report concludes that the diverse funding sources, while an overall strength of the program, have focused on specific needs at individual stations while static funding has limited the Survey's ability to fill gaps in streamgaging information that serves national needs. The report is available on the web at http://water.usgs.gov/streamgaging. Last year, the Association of American State Geologists issued a position statement urging the USGS to make streamgaging a national priority and encouraging support from other federal agency users as well. They called on the federal government to fully fund a baseline national network of streamgaging stations.

Interim Nuclear Waste Storage Site a High Priority
In the opening day of the 106th Congress, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced H.R. 45, a bill to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The bill, which was introduced with 47 cosponsors, is similar to H.R. 1270, which passed the House during the 105th Congress by a 307-120 margin. The legislation would locate an interim high-level nuclear waste storage facility adjacent to the proposed site for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. As in past years, the main challenge for the bill will be to achieve a veto-proof majority in the Senate to override the threatened Presidential veto. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) is said to be seeking a compromise on a nuclear waste bill with the panel's new ranking member, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), to gain these votes. Committee Staff Director Andrew Lundquist said: "Nuclear waste will be our number one priority ... and we will introduce legislation fairly soon."

Robert Gee Named DOE Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy
On January 29th, President Clinton announced his intention to nominate Robert W. Gee as Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy. Gee, of Austin, Texas, currently is the DOE Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs. He replaces Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert S. Kripowicz, who has been serving in an acting capacity since August 1998. The Assistant Secretary manages the Federal Energy Technology Center, Clean Coal Technology Program, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserve.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
The next meeting of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee is scheduled for Friday, April 23, 1999 at AGI headquarters in Alexandria VA.

Feb. 7-8

AAPG Day

Tulsa OK

Feb. 11

PPP 2000 Summit

Washington DC

March 29-30

GSA Geology & Public Policy Cmte.

Washington DC

April 21-22

Congressional Visits Day

Washington DC

April 23

GAP Advisory 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 www.agiweb.org since the last monthly update:


Contributed by Kasey Shewey White and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

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

Posted January 29, 1999


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