American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


May 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.

Congressional Exhibition of NSF Research
FY 2000 Budget Process Gearing Up
White House Releases Next Year's Budget Priorities for Science
Further Delays for Oil Valuation, Mining Rules
Database Protection Bill Passes House Committee
Superfund Legislation Being Considered in Congress
House Hearing on Methane Hydrate Research
White Out, Interns Out and In
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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

Congressional Exhibition of NSF Research
Earthquake and seismology research were the focus of an exhibit cosponsored by AGI and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at a Capitol Hill event on May 19. The exhibit was one of 30 displays highlighting current research sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Organized by the Coalition for National Science Funding, this display of geoscience research aims to show members of Congress NSF's role in meeting the nation's research and educational needs. The AGI-AGU exhibit showcased the work of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), a consortium of 91 universities having research programs in seismology. Supported by the NSF and the U.S. Geological Survey, IRIS maintains a worldwide system for monitoring earthquakes and other powerful seismic events, such as nuclear tests, in near-real time. Rick Aster, associate professor of geophysics at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, illustrated current technology with an exhibit featuring a working seismograph that allowed participants to walk and jump and create and record their own earthquakes. The AGI-AGU seismology exhibit was particularly timely because the House recently passed the 1999 Earthquake Hazards Reduction Authorization Act.

The geosciences were well represented at the exhibition, which drew a dozen members of Congress and more than 100 congressional staffers. Barbara Tewksbury, professor of geology at Hamilton College, represented the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) at its booth, which focused on NAGT's programs for improving undergraduate geoscience education. Other geoscience-related exhibits included "The Soil Record of Past Climates and Atmospheres" by the University of Tennessee, "The Virtual Earth System" by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and "Measuring the Earth with Quasars" by the American Astronomical Society. (update adapted from news note by Kasey Shewey White to appear in July 1999 Geotimes)

FY 2000 Budget Process Gearing Up
As May winds down, the first of the appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2000 are beginning to emerge from committee. The Administration and congressional leaders playing brinkmanship over who will propose breaking the budget caps set by the 1997 balanced budget agreement. So far neither side has blinked, leaving appropriators to contend with major cuts in spending from last year. Their response has been to allocate increases for defense, small cuts for most non-contentious domestic spending areas, and draconian cuts to high-profile domestic areas in order to force the issue. Consequently, the House allocation for the bill funding NSF, NASA, and EPA is 8.4 percent less than last year, for the bill funding NOAA it is 13 percent less, and for the bill funding the Department of the Interior it is 19 percent less. Unless the caps are removed, this strategy could produce a major financial crunch for these agencies. Consequently, the chairman of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee has vowed to delay consideration of that bill as long as possible in hopes that an agreement can be reached. More at the AAAS R&D Budget Policy Page at http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/rdwwwpg.htm.

White House Releases Next Year's Budget Priorities for Science
Even as Congress considers the FY2000 budget, the Administration is hard at work preparing the FY2001 budget, which will be submitted to Congress next February. In late May, the White House issued a list of priorities for science and technology spending. Although not binding on the departments and agencies, the priorities give a good indication of where next year's budget increases are likely to occur. As with the current budget, the top priority is information technology. That is followed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and climate change technology, emerging infectious diseases, protecting against 21st century threats, aviation safety, plant genome research, food safety, integrated science for ecosystem challenges, educational research, and nanotechnology. Although "protecting against 21st century threats" might sound like it would include a focus on natural hazards, alas it is described solely in terms of terrorism. Perhaps the Administration's crystal ball suggests that the $50 billion per year cost of natural disasters will vanish in the millennium.

Further Delays for Oil Valuation, Mining Rules
The Department of the Interior's proposed oil valuation rule saw more action on the Hill this past month and will likely remain an unresolved issue for some time to come. Since the new rule was first proposed in February, 1998, it has been repeatedly delayed by Congressional moratoriums. The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 1141), signed by President Clinton on May 21st, extends the moratorium until the start of FY 2000 this October. In addition, new allegations of payoffs to two federal employees in the Interior Department and the Department of Energy have led Senators Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Don Nickles (R-OK) to ask Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to "suspend the proposed oil valuation rule until issues surrounding its propriety are resolved." See http://www.senate.gov/~energy/oil_valuation.htm for the complete press release from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

In related news, the Senate Energy Research, Development, Production, and Regulation Subcommittee held a hearing on S. 924, the Federal Royalty Certainty Act, on May 18th. The bill, introduced by subcommittee chair Nickles, requires that the value of royalty payments be calculated in marketable condition at the lease and relieves the oil or gas producer of marketing and transportation costs. The Minerals Management Service, the branch of the Interior Department in charge of handling royalty collection, is opposed to the new legislation. For more information on this bill and other oil royalty updates, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html.

The emergency spending bill signed by President Clinton also included a mining-related provision to require an additional minimum 120-day comment period on the Bureau of Land Management's surface management regulations for mineral exploration and development activities conducted under the authority of the General Mining Law of 1872. The regulations (known as 3809 regulations after their federal code number) apply to "hardrock" minerals, such as copper and gold, on nearly 270 million acres of public lands managed by BLM throughout the Western United States. Last year's omnibus appropriations bill required BLM to delay the rule until the National Research Council could complete a study, due July 1st, assessing the adequacy of state and federal statutes and regulations affecting hardrock mining on federal lands that are intended to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of federal lands. The study will not address the larger issue of reform of the comprehensive mining law. More on the study can be found at http://www.senate.gov/~energy/oil_valuation.htm.

Database Protection Bill Passes House Committee
Legislation to create new intellectual property protections for data passed the House Judiciary Committee on May 26th. Similar legislation in the 105th Congress passed the House but did not make much headway in the Senate. The new bill -- H.R. 354, the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act -- has been modified from the earlier legislation in order to address concerns from the educational, scientific, and library communities that the new protections would impede the full and open exchange of data upon which education and research rely. The House Commerce Committee is considering a related bill -- H.R. 1858, the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999 -- that has a different approach to protecting databases and has received broader support from the library community. Additional background can be obtained from a new AGU alert on this issue (http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list) and an earlier AGI legislative update (http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/database106.html).

Superfund Legislation Being Considered in Congress
The Superfund issue has come around again and currently there are two Senate bills (S. 1090 and S. 1105) and one House bill (H.R. 1300) under debate in Congress. Each bill is streamlined to avoid many controversial issues that prevented legislation passing last Congress. However, there are still stumbling blocks, the biggest of which is reauthorization of the Superfund tax. The Environmental Protection Agency promises to oppose any bill not continuing the Superfund tax -- this includes S. 1090 and H.R. 1300. In a recent House hearing, EPA Administrator Carol Browner stated her concerns that H.R.1300 shifts financial burden of clean up to taxpayers and that could cause increased litigation.

On May 25th, the Senate held a hearing on S.1090, which begins downsizing Superfund and shifts more power to the states. State officials supported provisions increasing state control over cleanups such as requiring a governor's request to list a site on the National Priority List and giving states the authority to declare finality at a site, thereby protecting the owner from future clean-up requirements by the EPA. Environmental groups, however, testified that these provisions put too much power in state hands and would potentially jeopardize clean-up standards at sites and prevent cleanup if a site is not politically beneficial for a governor to add to the National Priority List (NPL) of sites. Senate Democrats have submitted S. 1105 which, while similar to S. 1090 in many respects, does not cap the number of sites that can be listed on the NPL to 30 annually, does not require governor involvement to list sites, and does not give liability relief to small businesses. S. 1105 is the only Superfund legislation on the table that reinstates the Superfund tax.

All of the current bills include provisions for "brownfield" redevelopment, a rare area of agreement between the many sides in the Superfund debate that has not been allowed to pass separately in order to force broader reform. Brownfields are plots of contaminated land in the urban centers that are left vacant but if cleaned up could enhance economic development in urban centers and help prevent urban sprawl by encouraging businesses to redevelop existing urban areas, not pristine open space. Brownfields exist because owners fear high costs of clean up and lack of finality, which leaves them open to future requests to clean the site by the EPA. All three Superfund bills provide funding for states to investigate, identify, and begin mitigation of brownfields. More on Superfund legislation at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#superfund).

House Hearing on Methane Hydrate Research
On May 25th, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on H.R. 1753, the Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 1999. Witnesses from federal agencies with a role in hydrate research -- including the USGS, DOE, and NSF -- all emphasized that there is a huge volume of natural gas tied up in hydrates, that the production of these hydrates is not yet possible but the subject of research, and that hydrates pose a potential natural hazard threat associated with sea floor instability and the release of large volumes of methane to the oceans and the atmosphere. Scientists from the University of Alaska, University of Mississippi, and University of Hawaii explained their current and proposed research interests in the three main geographic provinces of suspected methane hydrate deposits in the US: Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Basin and Rim. All witnesses were supportive of the legislation. For more information on these bills and this topic, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ch4106.html.

White Out, Interns Out and In
After two and a half years of wonderful service to AGI and its member societies, Government Affairs Program staffer extraordinaire Kasey Shewey White has moved on to an exciting new job with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where she will be coordinating development of the next IPCC climate assessment report due out in 2001. Kasey has been instrumental in keeping AGI's Government Affairs Program web site up to date in its coverage of geoscience-related environmental, resource, and budgetary issues. Her monthly policy-oriented news note in Geotimes and member society alerts have helped to keep geoscientists current on policy issues that affect them. As sorry as we are to see her go, we are equally pleased that she has such a wonderful opportunity ahead of her.

AGI also bid farewell to Christi Snedegar, our first AAPG/AGI Semester Intern, who will spend the summer working for the Indiana Geological Survey before launching a career in the Navy. With all these departures, we are particularly grateful for the arrival of our first two AIPG/AGI Summer Interns -- Sarah Robinson and Scott Broadwell. Both are geology graduate students, Sarah in the doctoral program at Arizona State and Scott pursuing a masters degree at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

June 6-9

AASG Annual Meeting

Fairbanks AK

July 20-23

CESSE Annual Meeting

Cleveland OH

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 David Applegate, Scott Broadwell, Sarah Robinson, and Kasey Shewey White (in absentia), AGI

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

Sent June 4, 1999; Posted June 14, 1999


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