American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


February 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.

DOE Research Program Takes Hit in Fiscal Year 2000 Budget Request
Momentum Builds in Congress and DOE for Oil Industry Relief
NEHRP Reauthorization Process Begins
Little Enthusiasm for DOE Nuclear Waste Proposal
Research Council Releases Report on GPRA
FOIA Provision Continues to Raise Concerns
AGI Executive Committee Endorses APS Statement on the Nature of Science
AGI/AAPG Semester Intern Arrives
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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DOE Research Program Takes Hit in Fiscal Year 2000 Budget Request
The President's budget request for fiscal year 2000 includes modest increases for most geoscience-related agencies and programs. A matter of considerable concern, however, is a significant cut proposed for the Department of Energy's (DOE) geosciences research program in its Office of Science. An apparent 9 percent decrease masks a more significant cut to the current program of nearly 40 percent offset by new and transferred funds for carbon sequestration as part of the Administration's climate change technology initiative. The program funds basic research in focused areas with broad applications to multiple DOE mission areas including oil and gas exploration and development, geothermal energy, and environmental remediation. Universities and DOE national laboratories receive peer-reviewed grants for research in geochemistry, hydrology, rock mechanics, and geophysical imaging.

Elsewhere in the President's request, the US Geological Survey request features a significant budget restructuring that would move facilities and science support costs out of the individual divisions and into Survey-wide accounts. The budget also would create a separate account for integrated science projects. Overall, the Survey would receive a 5 percent increase. The National Science Foundation's Geosciences Directorate is up 2.6 percent. At DOE, petroleum R&D would increase 3 percent, natural gas research would decrease 8 percent, and the Yucca Mountain project would increase 17 percent. NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is up 3 percent, and NOAA's budget is up nearly 10 percent.

A special update with additional details on the President's request is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/budgetfy2000up.html .Since the release of the budget, Congress has held hearings to determine which of the Administration's program they feel are worthy of funding. The AGI website will contain updates of the appropriations process, and also includes a detailed description of the budget request.

Momentum Builds in Congress and DOE for Oil Industry Relief
The crisis in the oil patch has begun to attract attention on Capitol Hill and in the Clinton Administration. Increasing numbers of job losses -- 12,000 in January alone -- are sparking fears that the oil industry downturn could adversely affect the booming economy. A February 25 hearing by the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee sought to substantiate claims that the current tax laws are ineffective in compensating the failing domestic petroleum industry. The hearing was partly in response to two pieces of legislation introduced by committee members Wes Watkins (R-OK) and Bill Thomas (R-CA) -- H.R. 53 and H.R. 423 respectively. These bills would provide new tax breaks and incentives for marginal wells and small producers.

Although the Administration does not support the tax-relief bills, DOE has taken a number of its own steps to address the problem. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that starting in April DOE would obtain oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as in-kind royalty payment from offshore Gulf of Mexico leases, replacing 25 million barrels of oil sold from the SPR in recent years for deficit reduction and other purposes. The SPR currently holds 561 million barrels, well below its maximum capacity of 680 million barrels. Richardson also offered to use some of that unused capacity to provide commercial storage for up to 70 million barrels in order to keep that oil off the market. DOE has also requested $19 million for research and development focused on increased recovery efficiency to help prevent domestic producers from prematurely abandoning fields. Late in February, DOE signed a memorandum of understanding with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help small producers and service companies take advantage of SBA loan guarantees and other assistance programs. Additional information on the hearings and related oil and gas issues in Congress can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/legis.html .

NEHRP Reauthorization Process Begins
On February 23rd, the House Subcommittee on Basic Research held a hearing as the first step toward reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). New subcommittee chairman Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) expressed his support for the program and his hope to "increase authorization funding and also increase our bang for the buck." One of the scientists giving testimony stated that "if research can reduce the loss from a single future earthquake by as little as 10 percent, the payoff on the research investment will be as much as a thousand times the annual research budget for earthquake research in this country." Two of AGI's member societies have sent out alerts to their membership encouraging them to express their views on NEHRP to Congress in order to keep the legislative ball rolling to successful enactment of a new bill. A full description of the hearing is available on the AGI website: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/nehrp.html .

Little Enthusiasm for DOE Proposal To Take Title to Civilian Nuclear Waste
By law, the Department of Energy (DOE) was required to take possession of spent nuclear fuel from civilian nuclear reactors starting in 1998. The law in question assumed, somewhat optimistically we now know, that a permanent underground repository would be built by then. With the proposed Yucca Mountain repository not scheduled to open before 2010, utility companies sued DOE last year for failure to fulfill its obligation. Now, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has proposed a partial solution to the impasse with the federal government assuming legal title and management responsibility for the spent fuel but leaving it where it is until a repository is built. The spent fuel is currently being stored at 72 nuclear plants around the country, the bulk in the East. The utilities would benefit from decreased liability, and federal ownership would also eliminate some state and local government restrictions on building additional on-site storage facilities.

Utilities have not embraced the proposal, sticking to their position that they want the waste entirely taken out of their hands. Indications are that Congress, which would have to approve Richardson's proposal, shares their opinion. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who chairs the House Commerce Committee's Energy and Power Subcommittee, has announced that he plans to move ahead with legislation that would establish a temporary storage facility adjacent to Yucca Mountain before a final decision is made on the underground repository. By two votes in the Senate, similar legislation in the last Congress failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to overcome an expected presidential veto. Supporters claim that they now have the votes in both the House and Senate to override a veto.

Research Council Releases Report on GPRA
Since its inception in 1993, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) has raised concerns in the scientific community about how it would be used to measure basic research performance. To answer this question, the National Academies of Science and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine recently conducted a study and released a report by their Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy entitled "Evaluating Federal Research Programs: Research and the Government Performance and Results Act." The report recommends that federal agencies use a three-pronged approach to measure basic research. The report states that agencies should use peer review to assess quality; review by experts in the field and potential users in other fields to review the relevance of the research to an agency's mission; and international panels to assess "whether the research is at the forefront of scientific and technical knowledge." For applied research, "agencies should measure progress toward practical outcomes." The report recommends better communication between agencies, encourages agencies to focus on training and educating young scientists, and recommends that the scientific and engineering community should become more familiar with and more involved in the implementation of GPRA. The report is available on the National Academy Press website: http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/gpra/.

FOIA Provision Continues to Raise Concerns
In response to concerns by AGI member societies over the implications of revising White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-110, GAP staff attended a briefing on the topic organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The provision in last year's appropriations bill directs OMB "to require Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under FOIA." FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act, an important "sunshine" law by which citizens can obtain unclassified government data, reports, and other material. The scientific community has raised concerns over the potential misuse of such requests to release scientific data collected by academic researchers before it has been peer-reviewed or published and as a means to. Other concerns include the effect on intellectual property rights, the possible violation of confidentiality of human research subjects, and delay and disruption of scientific work by groups opposed to the results of certain research.

The speakers at the forum included representatives from Congress, OMB, universities, and industry. Kathy Casey, legislative director for Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), provided insight on the intent of the provision, which Shelby inserted into a massive budget bill during final negotiations. She stated that his purpose was to provide taxpayers with the right to access all federally funded research and to make all research underlying federal rules publicly available.

A notice seeking comments on the proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register on February 4. OMB's interpretation of language seems to limit the effects of the provision by applying it only to "data relating to published research findings produced under an award that were used by the federal government in developing policy or rules" but does not define data, research, or policy. Comments must be received by April 5. More information on the GAP site at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/foia.html.

AGI Executive Committee Endorses APS Statement on the Nature of Science
During its Feb. 20 meeting, the AGI Executive Committee unanimously voted to endorse a letter from the American Physical Society (APS) on the nature of science. In a letter to AGI President David Stephenson in December, APS President Andrew Sessler wrote: "Most scientists, I believe, are anguished by the growing influence of pseudoscientific claims in a time of almost daily scientific triumphs." Scientists, he says, "have an obligation to help non-scientists distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit." Sessler sent the letter to a large number of scientific societies seeking endorsement of the letter. Sessler adds that the letter may "initiate a dialogue within the scientific community about the best way to deal with the problem of pseudoscience."

AGI/AAPG Semester Intern Arrives
AGI's Government Affairs Program welcomed our first AGI/AAPG semester intern this month, with the arrival of Christi Snedegar on February 8. Christi graduated in December from Indiana University in Bloomington with a dual degree in geology and classical civilization. In November, she will join the U.S. Navy's nuclear engineering program. Since her arrival, Christi has attended hearings on the state of the oil and gas industry, nuclear waste, and hardrock mining. GAP is grateful to AAPG for its support of this internship.

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.

March 8

NSF Environment Task Force Town Meeting

Arlington VA

March 16

AASG Liaison Committee

Washington DC

March 25-26

AGU Public Affairs Cmte.

Washington DC

March 29-30

GSA Geology & Public Policy Cmte.

Washington DC

April 11-13

AAPG Annual Convention

San Antonio TX

April 14-16

AAAS Science & Technology Colloquium

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, David Applegate, Kristina Bartlett, and Christi Snedegar, AGI

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

Posted March 4, 1999


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