American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Testimony: House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee

Statement by Dr. Marcus E. Milling of the American Geological Institute to the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives in support of Fiscal Year 1997 Appropriations for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D Program

March 7, 1996

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Good afternoon. I am Dr. Marcus E. Milling, executive director of the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present AGI's testimony in support of fiscal year 1997 appropriations for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program. AGI also supports funding for geoscience research in other Interior agencies, particularly the Minerals Management Service.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 29 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 80,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate Members. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Last year, geoscience agencies under this subcommittee's jurisdiction faced the most serious budgetary challenge in their history. This challenge came even as the United States began to recognize its increasing vulnerability to earthquakes, floods, droughts, water pollution, volcanic eruptions, global environmental change, contamination from waste disposal, and reliance on unstable sources of foreign oil and minerals. None of these problems can be confronted without continuing geoscientific input, as this subcommittee and Congress ultimately determined. Federal investments in the geosciences continue to pay back large dividends, and the rationale for continuing federal support remains strong. The national need for a federal role in the geosciences is based on a number of factors, most notably:

The demand and competition for Earth's land, water, energy, and materials is continually increasing. Furthermore, the impact of natural hazards such as floods and earthquakes will increase as our population grows fastest in those areas most prone to such catastrophic events.

Providing critical long-term data on natural resources and geologic hazards requires an integrated national effort. This information represents a fundamental public good required by the private sector and by government agencies at all levels as the basis for exploration, planning, environmental policy, and land-use decisions. The collection of this data must be coordinated and assessed at a national level to ensure that crucial needs are being met.

U.S. Geological Survey

The central mission of the Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide reliable, objective earth science data and analysis of hazards, resources, and the environment from a national perspective. Virtually every American citizen and virtually every federal, state, and local agency benefits either directly or indirectly from USGS products and services. The USGS is widely recognized for providing unbiased data used by others to better manage the nation's resources. It is to be commended for focusing on the needs of its customers and for developing partnerships to leverage federal dollars. As Chairman Regula wrote in the current issue of Geotimes, the Survey's "willingness and ability to respond to the changing needs of society may have been the single most significant factor in helping it survive in the current budget climate." AGI also supports the Survey's emphasis on conducting strategic science, identifying specific projects that have broad applicability to national problems.

The major earthquake that devastated Kobe, Japan in 1995 is a powerful reminder of the need for reducing the impact of geologic hazards. In order to be successful, the federal government's increased mitigation efforts must include a strong component of research into these hazards. The societal benefits and returns on investment of geoscience R&D on earthquakes and other geologic hazards extend to such areas as housing, transportation, commerce, agriculture, communications, and human health and safety.

The past year has seen a large number of severe floods -- in the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the Gulf Coast. The USGS provides streamflow information that is the basis for flood forecasts by the National Weather Service and emergency response planning by federal, state, and local agencies. This information is collected through the USGS Federal-State Cooperative Program, a partnership with over 1100 state and local agencies that cost-share the data collection which the USGS then makes available to all potential users. This program should receive funding adequate to maintain historical levels of service and support modernization.

The health of the nation's water resources is another prominent national concern. Depletion of surface-water and ground-water supplies has reached significant proportions in some regions, and contamination is a problem in many communities. As the primary source of data on the nation's water resources, the USGS monitors ground- and surface-water contamination and other threats to our water supplies, contributing to the remarkable levels of public health enjoyed by all Americans.

Geologic maps are a fundamental data source for all of the USGS missions, and AGI hopes that the current efforts in Congress to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Act will be successful. AGI urges this subcommittee to fund this program and particularly the external StateMap and EdMap components that are matched by state and university dollars. Although AGI is generally supportive of the use of contracting for map production and other services where the private sector can do a better job, we are concerned that cost and quality be considered in any calls for an increase in contracting of the mapping functions in the USGS and other Interior agencies.

During the current fiscal year, the USGS is assuming new responsibilities formerly housed in the National Biological Service (NBS) and U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM). If carefully managed, these new responsiblities can significantly enhance the core responsibilities of the USGS. The USBM mineral information function provides valuable information on national and world mineral resources that must not be lost. The integration of the NBS functions provide a number of opportunities for focused interdisciplinary research in areas such as South Florida and San Francisco Bay. The highly successful National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program already collects both hydrologic and biologic data for our nation's watersheds. In order to address the merger issue, AGI convened a workshop of key scientific and professional societies in the geosciences and life sciences that are affected by the merger of NBS and USGS. We hope to issue a consensus report in mid-April that will be helpful to both the Department of the Interior and to Congress in implementing this merger.

The USGS needs the resources and flexibility to address an evolving mission and adapt to changing national priorities. AGI believes that the $730.5 million provided for the USGS by Congress in Conference Report 104-402 for fiscal year 1996 represents the minimum amount necessary to keep the Survey's operations viable. This is a modest investment in the future of our nation and our planet. If we do not successfully maintain our federal investment in the USGS, we run the risk of more costly tragedies that will increase the federal deficit.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development

In 1994, domestic oil production declined to its lowest level since 1946. For the second consecutive year, the United States has imported more than 50 percent of its total oil demand. Imported oil accounted for about 31 percent of the merchandise trade deficit in 1994. Further decreases in domestic production will exacerbate the trade deficit problem and increase foreign dependence on a resource that is vital to the economic strength and national security of the nation. While research on renewable resources and energy efficiency is critical to America's future, continued research on fossil energy is no less important. The societal benefits of fossil energy R&D extend to such areas as economic and national security, job creation, capital investment, and reduction of the trade deficit.

DOE's Fossil Energy R&D program is making a significant contribution to development of new technologies required for cost-effective, efficient development of U.S. oil and gas resources. Reductions in the program would adversely affect the domestic oil and gas industry, particularly small independent producers, and would not be in the best interests of the nation. The federal money spent on these programs goes to support laboratories and improve information dissemination. This money does not go into corporate coffers, but it will help American businesses stay in business by giving them a technological edge over their foreign competitors.

AGI supports the integration of the oil and gas programs as has long been done in industry. Combining these programs will result in improved efficiency and better reflects the way that the researchers work. AGI requests that the DOE Fossil Energy programs be funded at a level no lower than the $417.2 million provided for in Conference Report 104-402 for fiscal year 1996. These funds are a small fraction of DOE's total budget, but they represent an important investment in America's future. We particularly urge that funding should be maintained for the following key components:

Computational Technology Forum. This program provides a strong link for joint development of advanced technology among the private sector, national laboratories, and universities to enhance the competitiveness of the domestic natural gas and oil industry and by doing so address the nation's oil and gas supply needs. Funds for this program go exclusively to our national labs and universities, and they are leveraged by matching funds from industry.

Geoscience Data Repository System. Domestic geological and geophysical data are critical to the energy security and economic prosperity of the United States. A consequence of the ongoing downsizing of the U.S. oil and gas industry is that billions of dollars worth of domestic geological and geophysical data are in jeopardy of being irrevocably lost or destroyed. According to many independent oil producers, a national geoscience data repository system would enable them to expand their search for and development of domestic oil and gas resources. AGI is working with DOE and the private sector to leverage federal dollars with industry contributions in order to establish a national geoscience data repository system for the use of industry, government, and the scientific research community.

Technology Transfer. The historic symbiotic relationship between major oil companies and independent producers has largely disappeared, and independent producers do not have access to existing and emerging advanced exploration, reservoir management, and production technologies. AGI supports DOE's efforts to accelerate the dissemination of these technologies through the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council and other mechanisms so that more domestic petroleum can be produced, and fewer producing fields are abandoned.

Functions from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Several of the functions of the former U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) were transferred to the DOE fossil energy budget in fiscal year 1996, specifically health and safety research and the materials partnership program. If those functions are to remain with DOE, it is important that they receive adequate support. The health and safety research of the USBM has been very effective in improving quality of life for thousands of American miners and its activities must be continued in the future. These functions should be receive no less than the $40 million provided in Conference Report 104-402.

AGI appreciates this opportunity to present our views to the subcommittee. We would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program

Last updated March 11, 1996

American Geological Institute Home Page