American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


July 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.

Science Loses Its Congressional Champion
Appropriations: NASA, NSF, NOAA Take Hits
Tax Bills Include Oil and Gas Provisions
Superfund Bills Making Slow Headway
Moonlight "Sunshine" Provision Finally Exposed to Light
NSF Releases Environment Report, Invites Comments
Opportunity to Comment on Park Service, USGS Strategic Plans
Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Science Loses Its Congressional Champion
Representative George E. Brown Jr. passed away July 16th at the age of 79, leaving behind a legacy as science's greatest and most knowledgeable champion in Congress. He saw science as a marvelous tool for the betterment of the human condition, and his support for science cannot be separated from his leadership in the struggle for civil rights and environmental protection. Despite squeaking through many of his elections, Brown always prevailed, serving eighteen terms to become the longest-serving representative in California's history.

As chairman of the House Science Committee and later as its ranking Democrat, Brown hired many scientists and engineers for his staff, creating an oasis of technical expertise on Capitol Hill. A strong supporter of the congressional science fellowship program since its inception in 1973, Brown frequently used fellows on both his personal and committee staff, including several geoscientists. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

Brown is the father of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). He was a tireless advocate for space exploration and for greater international scientific collaboration. He helped expand the role of the National Science Foundation to include education and was a catalyst for creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the permanent White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The recipient of a bachelor's degree in industrial physics from UCLA, Brown challenged scientists "to become more involved with the political process and the needs of the broader society -- in other words, be more effective citizens." In a statement issued at the time of Brown's death, his wife, Marta Macias Brown, said: "George believed that public service was a noble calling, that an individual could make a difference and that through persuasion and reason we could build a better society."

The Political Scene column in the September issue of Geotimes will contain a more extensive tribute to Brown.

Appropriations: NASA, NSF, NOAA Take Hits
As July turns to August, congressional leaders are showing little sign of easing up on the budgetary caps set in 1997 to constrain federal spending, and science funding is taking a hit. Aside from reclassifying a few programs as "emergency spending," the bills emerging from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are sticking to the caps. Defense spending is up and civilian spending is down. For science, that approach is translating into major budget cuts as the Fiscal Year 2000 appropriations process shifts into high gear. Some of the deepest cuts are being felt in the massive VA/HUD/Independent Agencies bill, which funds NSF, NASA, and EPA among other agencies. NASA would be hardest hit, receiving nearly $850 million less than requested and $1.4 billion (over 10 percent) less than the agency received in FY 1999. The Office of Earth Science would receive a 20 percent cut. In addition to eliminating the Triana satellite (viewed as a pet project of Vice President Gore), the House bill cuts more than $260 million from earth science programs. The American Geophysical Union has sent out an alert on the NASA cuts, which can be found at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list.

In the same bill, NSF would receive $3.6 billion, 7 percent less than the President requested and 0.7 percent less than it received in FY 1999. Research accounts at NSF would receive $2.8 billion, down 7.5 percent from the request and 0.3 percent over FY 1999. The Senate has yet to mark up its version of the VA/HUD bill.

As usual, the Interior spending bill is mired in controversy, mostly related to legislative provisions -- known as "riders" -- attached to it on issues such as mining and timber. The House bill passed on July 14th, and the Senate is still debating its version. The USGS fares moderately well in both bills, receiving more than FY 1999 but less than requested. Most of the increases go toward uncontrollable costs rather than to Administration initiatives. A rider in the Senate bill would permanently reverse the Department of the Interior Solicitor's interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law that limits the size of mine dumps. More on that issue at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#mining.

The House version of the Commerce spending bill slashes research funding at NOAA by over 10 percent from FY 1999. NOAA as a whole went down $547 million below the request and $208 million below FY 1999 levels despite a 7 percent increase for the National Weather Service. Ocean and atmospheric research, remote sensing, and marine fisheries programs would take the brunt of reductions.

More on these bills at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#approps. In an ironic twist, the Senate unanimously passed S. 296, legislation to double the federal investment in research, even as these spending bills were being debated and passed. A House counterpart to the Senate doubling bill has yet to emerge, and prospects are dim in the current budgetary climate.

Tax Bills Include Oil and Gas Provisions
Tax cut bills that have passed both the House and Senate contain a number of provisions sought by the domestic petroleum industry, including deduction of geological and geophysical costs. The Senate bill (S. 1429), passed on July 30th, includes four relevant provisions: a five-year extension of the current suspension of the net income limitation on percentage depletion for marginal wells, creation of a five-year carryback on net operating losses for oil and gas producers, and expensing of delay rental payments as well as geological and geophysical costs, starting in 2000. The House bill (H.R. 2488), passed on July 23rd, includes those four provisions plus one that grants a six-year suspension of existing limits on percentage depletion in excess of 65 percent net taxable income. Given that both the House and Senate tax bills contain roughly $800 billion in tax cuts and that the President has promised to veto anything over $300 billion, it is unclear whether the petroleum provisions can survive the ensuing negotiations. Many of the provisions found in these tax cut bills mirror in part, or in full, petroleum industry relief legislation introduced earlier in this Congress. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#gastax.

Superfund Bills Making Slow Headway
Superfund reform legislation is inching along on several fronts. During July, a House bill passed a subcommittee vote, the Senate prepared to vote on its version, and Superfund tax provisions were included in the massive tax-cut bills currently awaiting a House-Senate conference. H.R. 1300, introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), passed the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, which Boehlert chairs, and is awaiting a vote by the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee next week. S. 1090, introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Chafee (R-RI), was scheduled for a committee vote on July 28th that was cancelled after Democrats asked for more time to negotiate. Both bills have been substantially modified from Superfund reform measures in previous Congresses in an effort to satisfy the concerns of congressional Democrats and the President. Boehlert in particular has sought to develop a bill with broad support, and his efforts should pay off -- H.R. 1300 is expected to pass the full Transportation Committee by a unanimous vote.

Tax legislation is also being used as a vehicle to get some form of Superfund legislation passed this Congress. The tax cut bill passed by the Senate on July 30th includes provisions concerning brownfields, expanding credits to encourage cleanup at any brownfield location -- previous credits applied only to "Empowerment Zones, Environmental Protection Agency pilot sites, and high-poverty areas." Because more sites are eligible for the credit, the cost is estimated to increase to $782 million dollars over 10 years. The tax cut bill passed by the House on July 22nd combines the Superfund trust fund with the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) trust fund. Superfund clean-up costs would be able to tap into the $1.4 billion dollars currently in the LUST fund, providing funding for clean ups while skirting the controversial issue of reinstating the Superfund Tax. More on Superfund at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#superfund.

Moonlight "Sunshine" Provision Finally Exposed to Light
On July 15th, the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology held a hearing on legislation that would repeal a "sunshine" provision slipped into a 4,000 page omnibus appropriations bill during a final closed-door negotiating session last fall. That provision, introduced by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), sought to subject all data produced through federally funded grants to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Shelby sought to correct his earlier inability to obtain epidemiological data developed by Harvard researchers under a National Institutes of Health grant, which EPA later used in support of a rulemaking. The Shelby provision was discovered only after the massive bill had passed, prompting lawmakers and many in the scientific community to cry foul over the lack of legislative hearings or other debate. In January, Rep. George Brown (D-CA) introduced legislation, H.R. 88, to repeal the Shelby provision. This spring, the White House Office of Management and Budget released draft revisions of its Circular A-110 to comply with the new law and received thousands of comments on both sides of the issue.

The July 15th hearing on H.R. 88 was the first on this subject and was followed on July 27th by a roundtable discussion held by the Senate Science and Technology Caucus on public access to federal data. At the House hearing, proponents of repealing the Shelby provision cited four main concerns: Applying FOIA to all data produced under federal grants could compromise patient confidentiality and, in the case of public-private partnerships, intellectual property rights; expose researchers working on controversial subjects to harassment; and create a significant administrative burden on researchers. Opponents of repealing the amendment argued that FOIA adequately handles privacy and property issues, that the public has a right to data paid for by federal tax dollars, and that the concerns of researchers are overblown. Questions from the subcommittee illustrated that, beyond those directly involved in this legislation, many members of Congress are getting their feet wet with this issue for the first time.

In both the Senate and the House hearings, a fair bit of attention was paid to the proposed rules drafted by OMB, which stipulate that only published data shall be subjected to FOIA requests. Still in question, however, is whether or not the agency regulations would hold up to a court challenge given the broader scope of the Shelby provision itself. The question may come sooner rather than later as the House recently defeated an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the revised OMB rule. More on this issue at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/foia.html.

NSF Releases Environment Report, Invites Comments
The National Science Foundation (NSF) held a public briefing on July 30th to announce the release of its interim report "Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century: The Role of the National Science Foundation." The report was prepared by a special Task Force on the Environment created by the National Science Board, and it is available online at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/tfe/nsb99133/start.htm. NSF is currently seeking comments from all interested parties. No formal closing date for comment submissions was given, but task force chair Dr. Jane Lubchenco stated that comments received in the next month would be the most helpful.

According to NSF, the Task Force on the Environment was established "to assist the Foundation in defining the scope of its role with respect to environmental research, education, and assessment, and in determining the best means of implementing activities related to this area." The forward to the interim report explains that the report is based on extensive review of relevant policy documents and reports, a process of hearings and consultations with invested communities, invited commentary from a variety of organizations and individuals, and feedback from a public website.

The report offers two "keystone" recommendations: 1) environmental research, education, and scientific assessment should be one of the highest priorities at NSF, and towards that end recommend increasing the level of environmental funding from the current level of approximately $600 million by $1 billion dollars over five years; and 2) NSF management should develop an effective organizational approach that meets all of the criteria required to ensure a well-integrated, high-priority, high-visibility, cohesive, and sustained environmental portfolio within the NSF." More information on this issue, including AGI testimony to the Task Force and background on the related National Institute for the Environment effort, at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#nie.

Opportunity to Comment on Park Service, USGS Strategic Plans
Three years ago, all federal agencies were required to develop strategic plans in accordance with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Now they are required to revise them. These plans are central to congressional efforts to increase the accountability of federal agencies and can have significant implications for future funding decisions. Both the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey have sent out requests for public comments on their plans. The NPS also is holding a series of public open houses, and GAP staff attended one in Washington DC on July 27th in order to express the need to strengthen the role of the geosciences in the parks. More formal comments are being developed, and AGI encourages other geoscience societies as well as individual geoscientists to comment on the revised plan. The NPS 1997 plan can be viewed at http://www.nps.gov/planning/sp and the proposed changes can be viewed and comments made at http://www.nps.gov/goalcomments. Comments can also be sent by mail to the National Park Service Strategic Planning Office, P.O. Box 25287, Denver CO 80225. All comments are due by August 13, 1999.

The USGS is asking stakeholders to review its current strategic plan and make suggestions for revisions. The plan can be viewed at http://www.usgs.gov/stratplan/ and comments can be made either at that web address, by e-mail at StratPlan@usgs.gov or by writing to Ms. Anne Kinsinger Chief of the Office of Program Planning and Coordination, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston VA 20192. All comments are due by August 31, 1999.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

August 23

AAAS Science in the Courts Mtg.

Washington DC

August 31-Sept. 1

USGS Landslide Summit

San Antonio TX

Sep. 26-27

GAP Advisory Committee Mtg.

Alexandria VA

Sep. 29-30

New Mexico Geological Society

Albuquerque NM

Oct. 24-27

GSA Annual Meeting

Denver CO

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 Scott Broadwell and Sarah Robinson

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

Posted July 31, 1999


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