American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


June 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.

FY 2000 Appropriations Move Ahead in Congress
Mining Law Debate Erupts Over Interior Solicitor Opinion
Oil Loan Guarantee Passes Senate
Public Meeting on Fossils on Public Lands, Comments Sought
House Hearing on Geologic Mapping Act
Senate Hearing on Earthquake Program
Yucca Mountain Legislation Overhauled in Senate
Forest Service Scientists' Study
Job Opportunity at AGI's Government Affairs Program
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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FY 2000 Appropriations Move Ahead in Congress
With neither Congress nor the Administration willing to remove budgetary caps for spending in Fiscal Year (FY) 2000, appropriations bills have little new money to spend. The Interior and Related Agencies bill, which funds the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 24th (S. 1292; S. Rpt. 106-99). The House version passed subcommittee markup on June 29th with a full committee markup scheduled for July 1st. The Senate bill totals $15.1 billion, $0.8 billion over FY 1999, and the House bill totals only $14.1 billion. Even that figure is a big step up for the House bill, which originally was allocated only $11.3 billion, far below FY 1999 levels.

In the Senate bill, the USGS would receive $813 million, an increase of $15 million over FY 1999 but $25 million below the Administration's request. Increases are primarily for uncontrollable costs (e.g. cost-of-living increases for salary), not for Administration initiatives. In the Geologic Division, the only requested increase granted was $1.2 million to purchase and install modern seismographs for pilot projects in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. The bill also restores cuts proposed by the Administration for the coastal and minerals programs. In the Water Resources Division, funds are restored to the Federal-State Cooperative Water program and for hydrologic networks and analysis. The budget restructuring proposed in the Administration's request -- expanding bureau-wide line items for facilities, science support, and integrated science -- was denied pending "more thoughtful and broader dialogs than appear to have been held to date" with affected stakeholders.

Funding for DOE's Office of Fossil Energy would increase over the President's request by $30 million to $391 million, $6.9 million over the FY 1999 level. Within that total, the natural gas research program was given $7.9 million more than the President's request (mostly for advanced turbine system research), and the oil technology program received $6 million more than the President's request. Overall funding for land management agencies was similar to FY 1999 levels and well below the President's FY 2000 request for a massive Lands Legacy Initiative. A National Park Service request for a $0.7 million increase for the geologic resource program was rejected.

In other geoscience-related appropriations news, the Agriculture bill is through the Senate (S. 1233) and awaiting House floor action (H.R. 1905), the Commerce bill (which funds NOAA) is on the Senate floor (S. 1217), and the Energy and Water bill passed the Senate (S. 1186). Neither the Labor/HHS bill (which funds education programs) or the VA/HUD bill (which funds NSF, NASA, and EPA) have made any progress. For more on all of these bills, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#approps.

Mining Law Debate Erupts Over Interior Solicitor Opinion
In March 1999, the Department of the Interior rejected a proposal for the Crown Jewel Mine in Washington state based on an interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law by Interior Solicitor John Leshy. The Leshy opinion limits mines to one five-acre millsite claim for mine waste dumping per twenty-acre mine claim. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) quickly attached a provision to an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that reversed Interior's Crown Jewel decision. Despite opposing Gorton's amendment, President Clinton signed the bill, which provided relief funding for Kosovo war refugees and victims of Hurricane Mitch. Now Gorton is seeking to permanently reverse Leshy's opinion, attaching a provision to the FY 2000 Interior appropriations bill. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/crownjewel.html.

Oil Loan Guarantee Passes Senate
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) continues his efforts to pass legislation that would establish a federally guaranteed $500 million emergency oil and gas loan program to help small independent oil and gas producers and service companies make it through the current downturn. Individual companies would be allowed to borrow up to $10 million. Although Domenici was forced to drop this proposal from an earlier supplemental spending bill for Kosovo, he did so with agreement that he could attach it to a second supplemental bill. His efforts are tied to those of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to establish a similar loan program for the domestic steel industry. The two measures survived a filibuster by a 71-28 vote on June 15th. The measure must still survive a conference with the House. For more on oil and gas tax incentive bills, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/gastax106.html.

On another oil-related issue, Domenici and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) added a provision to the FY 2000 Interior appropriations bill to extend the current moratorium on a new Minerals Management Service oil royalty rule until June 30, 2001. The AGI website contains more on that issue at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#royalty.

Public Meeting on Fossils on Public Lands, Comments Sought
In order to meet a request made last year by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Department of the Interior is developing a report assessing the need for a unified federal policy on the collection, storage, and preservation of fossils. As part of that process, the department held a public meeting on June 21st at USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia to receive input on federal policies and specifically on a background document entitled "Collection, Storage, Preservation and Scientific Study of Fossils from Federal and Indian Lands." At the meeting, chaired by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's science advisor Dr. Bill Brown, representatives from most Interior bureaus as well as the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers heard testimony from members of the public. The speakers presented diverse opinions with most of the comments focused on vertebrate fossils. Speakers represented scientific societies (including AGI member Society for Vertebrate Paleontology), museums, universites, commercial trade groups, and simply themselves as individuals. The department is still accepting written comments, which must be received by July 15th and should be sent to Sara Pena, Bureau of Land Management, 1849 C Street NW, Washington DC 20240. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/fossilup99.html.

House Hearing on Geologic Mapping Act
As reported in a special AGI update, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a June 17th hearing on H.R. 1528, the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1999. The hearing was chaired by bill co-sponsor and former geologist Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV), sitting in for bill sponsor and subcommittee chair Barbara Cubin (R-WY). Witnesses included USGS Chief Geologist P. Patrick Leahy; Association of American State Geologists President Larry Woodfork, state geologist of West Virginia; and American Geological Institute Treasurer William A. Thomas, geoscience professor at the University of Kentucky. All three witnesses expressed their support for the bill and for the partnership that it represents between the USGS, state surveys, and universities. In his testimony, Thomas expressed AGI's support for the bill and then focused on the EDMAP component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which provides matching funds for universities to train graduate students in geologic mapping on projects jointly undertaken with state geologic surveys or USGS. H.R. 1528 passed the House Resources Committee on June 30th. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is lead sponsor of the Senate companion bill, S. 607, which was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May. Both bills now await floor votes. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/geomap99.html.

Senate Hearing on Earthquake Program
The Senate took its first steps toward reauthorizing the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) on June 29th, when the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space held a hearing to look at the program and the Administration's budget request. Subcommittee Chair Bill Frist (R-TN) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) attended and heard testimony from the four federal agencies cooperating under NEHRP: the USGS, National Science Foundation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. The panelists explained their separate roles under NEHRP and outlined programs such as the National Seismic Network and the IRIS consortium. In his opening remarks, Frist acknowledged the importance of the program and focused primarily on public safety. Stevens' opening statement outlined his concern with the large costs of disasters, and he announced plans to re-introduce legislation regarding earthquake insurance issued by the private sector. Under a general feeling of good will towards NEHRP, there were a few questions from Frist for the panelists dealing with partnerships under NEHRP between cooperating agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector as well as more scientific subjects such as the current shortcomings of seismic prediction. A NEHRP reauthorization bill (H.R. 1184) has already passed the House. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/nehrp.html.

Yucca Mountain Legislation Overhauled in Senate
On June 16th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed Chairman Frank Murkowski's (R-AK) high-level nuclear waste disposal bill, which abandons five years of congressional efforts to establish an interim storage facility adjacent to the proposed permanent repository site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Interim storage -- designed to speed up the removal of commercial spent fuel from 81 reactor sites around the country -- has been the focus of bills that failed to pass the last two Congresses in the face of veto threats from the Administration. The committee-passed bill embraces a proposal made by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson by which the Department of Energy (DOE) would take title of spent nuclear fuel and pay utilities for on-site storage at commercial nuclear power plants until a permanent repository was ready. In return, the utilities would have to drop their lawsuits against DOE for failing to meet its obligation (dictated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982) to remove waste from individual sites by 1998. Some Democrats voted against the bill, because of a provision that gives authority to determine radiation standards for ground water around the Yucca Mountain site to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, taking it away from EPA. An interim storage bill (H.R. 45) is on tap for a vote of the full House, but H.R. 45 sponsors say they will wait to see what happens to Murkowski's bill. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/yucca106.html.

Forest Service Scientists' Study
The U.S. Forest Service assembled an interdisciplinary Committee of Scientists in 1997 to "develop a set of concepts and principles toward which land and resource planning could work." This March, the committee submitted its report, entitled "Sustaining the People's Lands." The report stresses the environmental, social and economic importance of scientifically based planning strategies and urges cooperation between local, state, and federal government agencies, Native American tribes, private interests, and community members. It emphasizes the need to consider the "larger landscape" and favors regional planning that considers broad geographic, political, economic, and social variations across property lines and bears in mind global effects and long-term goals. The report encourages scientists to summarize the state of knowledge and integrate information from different disciplines to foster educated decision-making, while continuing traditional research. The Committee also "recommends that the Forest Service create a national science and technology advisory board to provide highly qualified and independent scientific advice" in order to help "collaborative planning become a reality." The report also calls for increased funding for Forest Service Research and National Forest System technical staff. The report is available in full at http://www.fs.fed.us/news/science/.

Job Opportunity at AGI's Government Affairs Program
AGI is accepting applications for a professional staff position in its government affairs program. Major duties and responsibilities include monitoring and analyzing geoscience legislation and policy developments, writing updates and maintaining current policy information on the AGI website, handling logistics for internship and fellowship programs, and fostering information flow between the geoscience community and policymakers. The preferred candidate will have a background in the geosciences; outstanding writing, verbal, and organizational skills; experience in public policy; and familiarity with Web publishing. Salary range is mid to upper $20's plus benefits. Candidates should submit a resume, including the names of three references, with cover letter to David Applegate, AGI, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302-1502. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis with a cutoff date of August 15, 1999. Questions only to govt@agiweb.org. EOE

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

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:


Monthly update prepared by David Applegate and AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Althea Cawley-Murphree, Scott Broadwell, and Sarah Robinson

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

Posted July 1, 1999


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