American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


March 1999


This monthly update goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, 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.

House Science Committee Passes NEHRP Bill
Hearing Held on Climate Change Bill
New ANWR Legislation Introduced
Congress Hears Oil Industry Concerns
Eisenhower Program May Be Flexed Out
Endangered Species Act Revision Introduced
AASG Gives Out Inaugural Pick and Gavel Awards
AGI Testifies Before Task Force on Environment
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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House Science Committee Passes NEHRP Bill
On March 25th, the House Science Committee passed H.R. 1184, the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Authorization Act of 1999, which authorizes a total of $469.6 million for earthquake readiness programs. In addition to a two-year authorization for earthquake programs at the four participating agencies -- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Science Foundation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Institute of Standards and Technology -- the bill also includes five-year authorizations for two new projects: The Advanced Seismic Research and Monitoring System and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. For the advanced seismic system, the bill would authorize approximately $33.5 million in each of the next five years for the USGS to expand and modernize seismic and strong motion instrumentation. The bill also authorizes additional funds for operation of the network. The last NEHRP authorization asked the USGS to study development of such a network, and the report of that study is expected to be released by the Department of the Interior in the near future. The Seismological Society of America has been a vocal supporter of the advanced seismic network and is encouraging its members to contact their senators and representatives on this issue. For more, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/nehrp.html.

Hearing held on Climate Change Bill
On March 24, the Senate Environment and Publics Work Committee held a hearing on S. 547, the Credit for Voluntary Reductions Act of 1999. The committee is chaired by bill sponsor John Chafee (R-RI). S. 547 would provide businesses with credits for current greenhouse gas reductions that could be used under a future mandatory reduction scheme. For the most part, the witnesses -- including Eileen Claussen from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which is comprised of more than 20 large companies; Dale Landgren from Wisconsin Electric Power Company; and Tia Nelson from the Nature Conservancy -- seemed to accept that a binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gases will eventually come into effect, even if it is not the Kyoto Protocol. They urged passage of this bill to encourage companies to take action now without being penalized later. More information on both the bill and the hearing is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/climate.html. In other climate news, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) plan to introduce a competing bill after the Easter recess that would also promote voluntary efforts to reduce emissions but also would provide $2 billion for a l0-year study of new research, development and demonstration of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New ANWR Legislation Introduced
The debate over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to petroleum exploration continues. Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN) introduced H.R. 1239, the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Act, on March 23rd with 116 bipartisan cosponsors. The bill would prohibit drilling in any part of ANWR and is named after the former chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs (now Resources) Committee who passed away earlier this year. In his opening remarks, Rep. Vento stated: "thanks to the late chairman Mo Udall's perseverance and dedication to the environment, the Arctic Refuge has been spared from the oil companies and the scarring effects of oil and gas exploration. We must remain united and continue his legacy to fight for the permanent preservation of the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain. Preventing the exploitation of the coastal plain is one of many solutions that can be employed today to protect Alaska's natural beauty and to prevent another tragedy similar to the one that occurred in Prince William Sound ten years ago," referring to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The bill is not supported by the Alaska delegation, which remains committed to developing the resources in the so-called 1002 Area of the coastal plain in ANWR. More information at http://www.agiweb.org/legis.html#anwr.

Congress Hears Oil Industry Concerns
With recent oil prices lower in constant dollars than they were in the 1950's, many oil producers have been making trips to Washington, DC to bring their plight before Congress. Five committees in the House and the Senate have held hearings on the oil patch crisis during February and March. The industry's plight was summed up in a graphic analogy by Texas independent producer John Bell in his testimony at one such hearing: domestic oil production is cut and will continue to bleed profusely until Congress can come to industry's aid like an EMT crew in an ambulance. The majority of American sentiment, however, has been more influenced by record low prices at the pump. Americans filling up on cheap gasoline are not inclined to listen closely to warnings that these prices -- now starting to rise again -- are forcing domestic producers out of work. Rep. Wes Watkins (R-OK) testified: "Since October of 1997, our domestic oil and gas industry has lost 57,000 jobs."

At a time when the United States is engaged in military actions in the Middle East and the Balkans, producers and legislators are also raising national security concerns over increased US dependency on foreign sources of oil. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Foreign Relations Committees held a joint hearing on the return of Iraqi oil to world markets -- portrayed by Jay Hakes of the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration as one of the main reasons for weak industry prices. The return has come about as a result of the US oil-for-food program, enacted as a means for Iraq to acquire food and medical supplies under the current sanction conditions. At several of the hearings, senators and representatives voiced their opposition to Administration plans to remove current caps on the program, questioning assertions by Administration officials that the change would not have a significant effect on world prices. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) noted that the recent increase in world oil prices were caused by OPEC decreasing its oil production by 2.2 million barrels -- the same amount of oil that Iraqi production currently places on the market. Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (TX) of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee stated that he would do all he could to kill the oil-for-food policy, which he described as "consorting with the enemy."

Eisenhower Program May Be Flexed Out
Two similar bills have passed the Senate and House that would allow states and school districts to waive requirements of federal education programs and use the funds for other education needs if the state or school district can prove those requirements impede their ability to improve education. The "Ed Flex" bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 800, the Educational Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999 by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), and in the Senate as S. 280 with the same title by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN). The Eisenhower Professional Development Program, which distributes funds to states and school districts solely for the purpose of teacher enhancement in math and science, is included in the list of programs that can be waived. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, offered an amendment during the House debate requiring districts seeking the waiver to document how the professional needs of its math and science teachers will be met. His amendment did not pass, but a similar amendment by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) was accepted that requires states to assure that the underlying intent for each programs continues to be met under the waivers. A conference will be held to iron out the differences between the two bills. Information on the result of the conference will be available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ike106.html.

Endangered Species Act Bill Introduced
Congress has unsuccessfully attempted to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act since 1992, but will try again this year. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 960, the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 1999, in early March. The bill already has 70 cosponsors and the support of "300 environmental, religious, fishing, consumer, and scientific organizations." The bill would require that incidental take permits, habitat conservation plans, and federal actions are consistent with recovery. It also provides tax credits, deferrals and deductions for habitat protection. The bill encourages ecosystem planning on a regional basis through the development of multiple landowner, multiple species conservation plans and contains a provision requiring the federal government to develop a recovery plan within 30 months of a species being listed as endangered. The bill has been referred to the House Resources Committee, whose chairman Don Young (R-AK) last week introduced legislation, H.R. 1142, that would require the federal government to pay compensation to private property owners when forcing them to use their land for wildlife habitat under the Endangered Species Act.. More information at http://www.agiweb.org/legis.html#esa.

AASG Gives Out Inaugural Pick and Gavel Awards
On March 16th, the Association of American State Geologists held a reception and dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC to honor the four recipients of the newly established AASG Pick and Gavel Award, which recognizes leaders who have made major contributions to the advancement of the geosciences. On hand to receive their awards were Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Representatives Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV) and Barbara Cubin (R-WY), and National Mining Association President Richard L. Lawson.

AGI Testifies Before National Science Board Task Force
As reported in a special update earlier this month, AGI provided testimony to the National Science Board's Task Force on the Environment at a town hall meeting held on March 8th at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The task force was established last year to help the National Science Foundation (NSF) define the scope of its role with respect to environmental research, education, and assessment. AGI's testimony sought to ensure that the task force's vision of environmental research and education includes the geosciences. It drew on previous AGI congressional testimony on NSF as well as the AGI Environmental Geoscience Advisory Committee's 1995 white paper on the role of the earth sciences in a National Institute for the Environment (NIE). The task force's report will be released at a National Science Board meeting in early May. The NSB task force is itself partly an outgrowth of the science board's rejection last year of a proposal to create a NIE within NSF. The AGI testimony and white paper as well as information on NIE can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/legis.html#nie.

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.

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 22-23

GSA North-Central Section Mtg.

Champaign-Urbana IL

April 23

GAP Advisory Cmte. Mtg.

Alexandria VA

April 25-28

AIPG Washington Fly-In

Washington DC

May 19

CSNF Exhibition

Washington DC

May 30-June 2

AGU Spring Meeting

Boston MA

June 6-9

AASG Annual Meeting

Fairbanks AK

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, and Christi Snedegar, AGI

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

Posted April 3, 1999


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