Monthly Review: April 2004
This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member
societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee,
and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort
to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community
that it serves.
Overall Budget Numbers Still Undecided
Energy Bill Update
North Slope Natural Gas One Step Closer to World Markets
Ultra-Deep Natural Gas Research and Development
U.S. Ocean Commission Report
Earth Observation GEO-4 Meeting
OFAC and IEEE Report of Foreign Scientist Publishing
Evolution Battles Continue on Three Fronts
Bush Administration Use of Science
Changes to OMB Peer Review Guidelines
EPA Science Advisory Board Nominations
USGS Minerals Announcement
USGS 125th Anniversary Resolution
List of Key Federal Register Notices
New Material Added to Website
Overall Budget Numbers
A final deal on the FY '05 budget resolution remains elusive as congressional
leaders continue in their more than month long effort to reach an
agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK), House
Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) and other GOP leaders
are meeting to discuss how to pay for President Bush's future tax
cuts, the largest obstacle separating them from passage of the budget.
But no agreement has been reached.
The budget resolution sets total spending limits for Congress as
they draft their 13 annual appropriations bills, which fund such government
agencies such as the EPA and the Energy and Interior departments.
According to the Budget Act of 1974, without a budget resolution in
place the House can still move forward in the annual appropriations
process after May 15th. The Senate, however, does not face the same
time restrictions. Instead, the Senate must obtain a simple majority
vote to overcome any procedural objections before bringing up any
of the 13 spending bills if they cannot come to an agreement and pass
a final budget resolution. Indeed, this would add another 13 hurdles
to an already laborious budget process made more difficult because
this is an election year.
The last week in April found the Senate debating the $13 billion
energy tax package, which was attached to a corporate tax bill. On
April 29th, the Senate held a cloture vote to end debate on the bill
and move toward a yes-or-no vote. This type of vote not only ends
debate but also is frequently used by Congress as a litmus test for
support on an issue. The cloture vote failed by five votes, which
is three more votes against the energy tax package than last November
when the energy conference report was voted on by the chamber. This
means that things are not moving in a positive direction for those
Senators who wish to pass an energy bill, or parts of an energy bill,
this year. According to Greenwire, energy bill issues are likely to
be on hiatus until fall but there is some hope that summer energy
problems such as blackouts and high gasoline prices may have changed
some minds (and votes) by the end of the season.
North Slope Natural
Gas One Step Closer to World Markets
In early April, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (R) signed a new
law that appropriates $1.65 million to help bring North Slope natural
gas to world markets. The legislation includes $650,000 for development
of a project to export super-chilled liquefied natural gas. State
officials are having trouble with bids for the building of the pipeline.
One of the main companies withdrew its bid and another has stepped
in and proposed to build the 745-mile pipeline with help from the
U.S. and Canadian governments. State officials are still hoping to
solicit more bids. The Alaska Gasline Port Authority has won a commitment
from Calpine Corp. from California to negotiate a purchase price,
including a tariff, to ship gas through the proposed pipeline. Under
the Stranded Gas Act, a 1998 state law, Alaska my offer bonds or other
incentives to private companies to help liberate some of the North
Slope's estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to markets
in the lower 48 states. Tax provisions in the national energy bill
in the Senate would provide billions in federal guarantees for construction
of the pipeline.
More on this can be found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/npra.html.
Gas Research and Development
At the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
hearing on April 29th, there was wide-spread support for ultra-deep
(over 1500m) natural gas exploration. Many of the members who attended
the hearing expressed concern over dwindling domestic natural gas
resources, rising prices and dependence on foreign sources. They believe
all of these problems will be relieved by exploring ultra-deep resources.
The subcommittee would like to develop a 10-year, $2 billion research
and development (R&D) budget for ultra-deep exploration in central
and western Gulf of Mexico, in addition to development of some onshore
locations. The R&D spending would be used for new and enhanced
seismic technologies to help better identify ultra-deep gas fields.
The only representative to express apprehension about ultra-deep water
drilling was Rep. Allen (D-ME), who wanted to make sure three concerns
were addressed: Can ultra-deep extraction reduce foreign dependence
on fuel? Is government funding absolutely necessary? and What are
the risks to the ocean ecosystem? Representative Allen's questions
and concerns were not addressed at the hearing.
U.S. Ocean Commission
On April 20th, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released its long-awaited
report on the state of the world's oceans. The report recommends reorganizing
the fragmented system of federal oversight by consolidating much of
the ocean management authority within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), which contains both the National Marine Fisheries
Service and the National Ocean Service. The report contains over 200
recommendations for Congress and Cabinet Agencies. Most notably, the
commission recommends building an Integrated Ocean Observing System
to monitor the oceans. The system would be a central part of the Earth
Observation System, which is currently under development by the U.S.
and nearly 50 other nations (story below). Public comments on the
Ocean Commission's preliminary report are being accepted until May
21, 2004. The full report and instructions for submitting comments
are available at: http://oceancommission.gov.
A summary of the report is available on AGI's website at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/ocean.html.
On April 25th, environment officials from 47 countries and the European
Commission met to discuss moving forward on the construction of a
global Earth observation system. The officials discussed a framework
document that will provide a 10-year implementation plan for the system.
The U.S. delegation was lead by EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and
included White House Science Advisor John Marburger as well as National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator (NOAA) Conrad
Lautenbacher. The system would link thousands of satellites, ocean
buoys, surface weather observing stations and other instruments to
improve data collection about the planet. NOAA currently has a system
in place to forecast for El Nino events, which took two decades to
build but has saved California more than $1 billion in damages. The
next step is for the plan itself to be presented at the Earth Observation
III summit in February 2005.
The most up-to-date information on the Earth observation system can
be found on-line at http://earthobservations.org/.
OFAC and IEEE Report
of Foreign Scientist Publishing
In early April the U.S. Treasury Department ruled that the Institute
of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) may edit, without restriction,
articles written by authors in countries under trade embargoes. Previous
government decisions required that a special license was necessary
to edit these articles. However, the ruling was specific to the IEEE
peer-review and editing process and it is unclear whether this ruling
will apply to other publishers. According to the Association of American
Publishers the Office of Foreign Assets Control is still insisting
that "collaborative interaction between the publisher and foreign
author is prohibited." The Chronicle of Higher Education reports
that IEEE is pleased with the outcome and sees it as a "green
light" to resume full editing and peer review.
The EPA was scheduled to finalize the regulations controlling mercury
by mid-December 2004, but the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
offered to extend the deadline by three months to March 15, 2005 and
the EPA accepted that offer in late April. In addition to extending
the date for the final rule, EPA administrator Mike Leavitt said he
would extend the public comment period on the mercury proposal through
June 29th. The NRDC offered the extension so that the EPA could conduct
more analysis on the rule and solicit additional public comment.
AGI updates on this issue can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/mercury.html.
In related news, six Democratic senators and one Independent called
for an investigation by the EPA inspector general of the agency's
procedures in writing the latest rule to control mercury pollution.
The senators charge that the new rule is so lax that it threatens
to undermine enforcement of the Clean Air Act. They accuse the new
rule of containing language written by industry lawyers and false
information inserted by the White House. The EPA was under a court
order to issue the rule, which requires owners of power plants to
install the "maximum available control technology" for removing
mercury gases from their smokestacks. Plant owners are arguing against
strict mercury controls, saying that reliable technology is not available
to remove mercury from smoke.
Continue on Three Fronts
In 2002, the Cobb County School District in Georgia issued a requirement
that all textbooks that contain material discussing evolution have
a disclaimer in the front of the book that warns that: "Evolution
is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This
material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully
and critically considered." Five parents sued the school system
to get the stickers removed in August 2002, and in early April 2004,
a federal judge ruled that the case had merit and could go to trial.
The Supreme Court issued a three-pronged test of the constitutionality
of issues related to the separation of church and state in 1971. According
to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in order to get the lawsuit dismissed
the Cobb County School Board had to prove "that the sticker was
adopted with a secular purpose; that its primary effect neither advances
nor inhibits religion; and that it does not result in an excessive
entanglement of government with religion." The judge found that
school board only met the first criteria. The case is expected to
go to trial later this year.
On April 6th, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State
sent a letter to the superintendent of schools in Darby, Montana,
requesting all documents relating to any decision of the school board
to teach theories on the origins of human life, including evolution,
creationism, intelligent design or any other objective origins theories.
This request was spurred by the Darby school boards recent preliminary
approval to change school policy to include objective origins theory,
usually a form of creationism or intelligent design, in the curriculum.
On April 8th, the Alabama Senate passed SB 336, the Academic Freedom
Act, that provides protection for both teachers and students who want
to freely discuss creationism, as long as the discussion is raised
in the context of approved curricula material. The students must also
show "acceptable understanding" of the course materials.
Meaning, as long as evolution is in the curriculum, then alternate
viewpoints (whether based on science or not) may legally be discussed.
Use of Science
In March, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a report
and a letter to the Bush Administration accusing the administration
of suppressing and distorting the scientific analyses of federal agencies
to match the administration's policies. On April 2nd, Dr. John Marburger,
the Bush Administration's top science official released a rebuttal
of each of the UCS claims. The UCS report can be viewed at: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/index.html.
Dr. Marburger's response can be viewed at: www.ostp.gov.
Changes to OMB Peer
In mid-April, the Bush Administration's Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) made several important changes to science policy. The
White House proposed changes to guidelines that require federal agencies
to submit scientific studies being used to form the basis for new
government regulations to independent peer review. The first draft
of these changes was announced just prior to Labor Day last year.
As reported last August, the guidelines are part of OMB's efforts
to emphasize the management side of its mission and are the brainchild
of John Graham, who heads the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory
Affairs. In a press release, Graham stated: "Peer review is an
effective way to further engage the scientific community in the regulatory
. The goal is fewer lawsuits and a more consistent regulatory
environment, which is good for consumers and business." Although
the guidelines are intended to establish government-wide standards
for peer review, Graham has stated that the agencies likely to be
most heavily affected by the new guidelines are the Department of
Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Changes to the first draft include allowing federal agencies to release
science about public health or medical risks without first getting
OMB approval. Opponents of the new guidelines are expressing concern
that the implementation of the proposal would lead to increased costs
and delays in disseminating information to the public, especially
where health and safety are concerned. To read the new OMB changes
to the proposal go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/fy2004/2004-08.pdf.
EPA Science Advisory
The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) staff office is soliciting nominations
for the SAB Ecological Processes and Effects Committee to review the
EPA's Critical Ecosystem Assessment Model. The SAB committee wants
to provide the EPA with comments on the conceptual framework and methodology
used to identify ecologically significant ecosystems and on the scientific
defensibility of the results generated from Critical Ecosystem Assessment
Model inquires. Any person or organization may nominate an individual
with the scientific qualifications in this area of expertise. The
deadline for nominations is May 12th. Nomination forms can be found
USGS Minerals Announcement
The Mineral Resources Program of the USGS will be awarding grants
under its Mineral Resources External Research Program. This program
is aimed at universities, state agencies, tribal governments or organizations,
and industry to conduct research in areas that meet the goals of the
Mineral Resources Program. The total amount of funding available for
all fiscal year 2004 grants is $200,000. Grant applications will be
accepted though May 14th and can be found at: http://www.grants.gov.
On April 19th, a federal judge upheld President Clinton's 1996 designation
of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument under the Antiquities
Act. The judge denied the request by the Utah Association of Counties
and Mountain States Legal Foundation to declare the designation unlawful.
Opponents of the designation say that President Clinton overstepped
his bounds in designating the monument. They plan to appeal the ruling.
Background information can be found on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/escalante.html.
USGS 125th Anniversary
In early March, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) introduced a resolution to
congratulate the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on its 125th anniversary.
The resolution (H. Res. 556) states: "The House of Representatives
expresses strong support for the United States Geological Survey as
it serves the Nation by providing timely, relevant, and objective
scientific information which helps to describe and understand the
Earth, minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters,
manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources, and enhance
and protect the quality of life of all Americans."
The commemorative resolution has 11 original co-sponsors, including
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and House
Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-FL). The resolution
was introduced with the support of the USGS Coalition. To help support
the USGS on its 125th anniversary, please ask your Representative
to co-sponsor H. Res. 556. The House of Representatives switchboard
number is 202-224-3121, and you can find the e-mail address for your
Representative at http://www.house.gov.
To read the resolution, log onto http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.RES.556:
List of Key Federal
Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal
regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the
geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and
show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The
Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont04.html.
Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also
available online at http://www.regulation.gov.
EPA, Comment on proposed changes to analysis and sampling procedures
in wastewater regulations. Comments must be received by June 7, 2004.
Send comments to: Water Docket, U.S. EPA (4101T), 1200 Pennsylvania
Ave, NW, Washington DC or to www.epa.gov/edocket. Volume 69, Number
66 (6 April 2004): pp. 18165-18226.
DOI, Minerals Management Service requests comments and suggestions
to amend regulations for transporting oil and gas across the Outer
Continental Shelf. Comments must be submitted by June 11, 2004 to
Director, Minerals Management Service, Attn: Policy and Management
Improvement, 1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop 4230, Washington DC. Volume
69, Number 70 (12 April 2004): pp. 19137-19139.
NASA, Biological and Physical Science Research Advisory Committee
Meeting, May 20-21, 2004. NASA Headquarters, 300 E Street SW, Room
6H46, Washington DC. Volume 69, Number 84 (30 April 2004): pp. 23823.
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs
portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap
since the last monthly update: *
- Action Alert: Representatives Needed to Support Seismic Network
- Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (4-19-04)
- Superfund and Brownfield Legislation (4-19-04)
- Climate Change Policy Overview (4-16-04)
- Mercury Policy (4-16-04)
- Natural Gas Policy (4-15-04)
- National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (4-13-04)
- Mining Policy (4-12-04)
- Wetlands Policy (4-7-04)
- High-Level Nuclear Waste Legislation (4-7-04)
Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs
Program and Gayle Levy, 2004 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science,
American Institute of Biological Sciences, Association of American
Publishers, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chronicle of Higher Education,
Greenwire, House of Representatives hearing summary, National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of State
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Posted May 10, 2004