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Monthly Review: April 2009

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.

1. Please Take Our AGI Monthly Review Survey
2. Department of the Interior Continues To Fill Leadership Positions
3. More Federal Agency Nominations
4. President Obama Addresses the National Academy of Sciences
5. President’s Science Council Announced
6. President’s Task Force Seeks Comments on Scientific Integrity
7. Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2010
8. Water Science Bill Passes House Vote
9. Senate Working on Energy and Water Bills
10. Soot Study Bill Brings Together an Unlikely Pair of Senators
11. Murkowski Introduces Volcano Early Warning System Bill
12. House Considers International Research Measure
13. Democrats Introduce No Child Left Inside Act
14. EPA Rules That GHGs Are Hazardous To Your Health
15. Proposed Development of Education Standards in Math – Science May be Next?

16. Experts Call For Federal Measures to Protect Coasts and Ocean Resources
17. World Oceans Day
18. Largest Tornado Research Project Starts In May
19. Geoscientists Make Their Presence Known on Capitol Hill
20. Key Reports and Publications
21. Key Federal Register Notices
22. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Please Take Our AGI Monthly Review Survey

We have prepared a brief survey of the AGI Monthly Review. Please click on the link and it will take you to a new web page for the survey. It should only take a few minutes and we would really appreciate receiving your comments. Thank you!

2. Department of the Interior Continues To Fill Leadership Positions

The number of nominations and appointments from western states continues to grow at the Department of the Interior (DOI) as Secretary Ken Salazar appointed two New Mexicans, Ned Farquahar and Deanna Archuletta, and President Obama nominated yet another Coloradan, Ann Castle, to fill key positions. Other positions that do not require confirmation have been filled with several westerners and many with specific connections to Colorado. Filling out the staff at DOI has moved relatively rapidly and while it is not unusual for staff to come from the Secretary’s home state and from the west, some senators are asking for consideration of people from other areas of the country.

The number of Coloradans caused Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to quip at a recent confirmation hearing that "We're a little concerned about this Colorado cabal that seems to be settling in", while Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted “…I feel a need to point out that New Hampshire also has mountains, fly fishing, coastal marshes, but I confess no prairie dogs and no oil rigs”. Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with fellow committee member, Shaheen, are responsible for vetting the Interior nominees in confirmation hearings before committee-approved members are brought to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Unfortunately, David Hayes, the nominee for the deputy secretary for Interior may have a long wait as Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) has put a hold on his nomination over the suspension of oil and gas leases in Utah by the Interior Department.

There has been movement on nominations and appointments of DOI’s five major divisions: Lands and Minerals; Water and Science; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Indian Affairs and Policy, Management and Budget. Lands and Minerals has oversight of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) while Water and Science has oversight over the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation.

For Lands and Minerals, President Obama has nominated Wilma Lewis as assistant secretary and Ned Farquhar has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary, a post that does not require Senate confirmation. Lewis, a native of the Virgin Islands has served as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and as the Interior’s inspector general. At Interior from 1993 to 1995, Lewis focused on the underpayment of royalties on federal mineral leases, the recovery of delinquent coal reclamation fees and environmental violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. She has a law degree from Harvard.

Farquhar is an environmental advocate who recently served on President Obama’s transition team for the Department of the Interior and was a former advisor to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Prior to that post, he served as a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Albuquerque, NM. In that position, Farquhar helped develop strategies for the Western Climate Initiative, a program formed by 7 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces to develop and implement a greenhouse gas cap and trade system set to begin 2012. Farquhar is an advocate of renewable energy and has indicated that he would like to limit conventional coal from expanding into new markets.  Farquhar has held leadership roles for several environmental advocacy groups and state agencies in Alaska, Vermont, California, and New Mexico, and has also taught courses at the Universities of New Mexico and Vermont. Farquhar earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1980 and master’s degree in Geography from Cambridge University in 1982.

For Water and Science, the nominee for assistant secretary is Coloradan Ann Castle. Castle is a partner at a Denver law firm were she works as a water attorney. Castle has worked on a wide variety of water rights and resources issues in the West, and was identified as one of the best water lawyers in the nation by Best Lawyers in America in 2007 and 2008. Castle earned her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and her law degree from the University of Colorado.

Deanna Archuletta, board chairwoman of the Bernalillo County (NM) Water Utility (BCWU), has been appointed as deputy secretary for Water and Science. As board chairwoman of the BCWU, she was responsible for overseeing one of the nation’s largest water treatment projects. Archuletta also served on the Obama Administration’s DOI transition team. Keeping with the theme of new DOI appointees with strong environmental backgrounds, Archuletta served as the southwest regional director for the Wilderness Society before moving to BCWU. Archuletta received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and communications from the University of Washington in 1997 and her master’s degree in sociology from the University of New Mexico in 2000.

For Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, has been confirmed as assistant secretary while Will Shafroth has been appointed as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks under Stickland. Shafroth is a fourth-generation Coloradan, who served as the first executive director of the Great Outdoors Colorado in the late nineties.

For Policy, Management and Budget, Rhea Suh, has been nominated to be assistant secretary. She has worked on Western ecosystems at two foundations and also served as a senior legislative assistant to former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).

For the Bureau of Reclamation, Michael Connor, who earned his law degree from the University of Colorado and has been the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's general counsel since 2001, has been nominated to head the agency.

In other key positions that do not require confirmation, Steve Black now serves as Salazar's counselor for energy. Black was formerly Colorado's deputy attorney general for natural resources and the environment before becoming legislative counsel in Salazar's Senate office. Laura Davis, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO), will become chief of staff for the Interior deputy secretary. So as soon as David Hayes gets a vote on the floor and assuming approval, he will have a chief of staff waiting for him.

3. More Federal Agency Nominations

**Department of Agriculture
President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have nominated Rajiv Shah to fill the position of under secretary of Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 2001, Shah has served as the director for the Agricultural Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has extensive experience in developing programs and initiatives to combat poverty and hunger worldwide. He received his M.D. and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

**Department of Energy
On April 17, 2009 President Obama nominated William F. Brinkman to lead the Department of Energy Office of Science. Brinkman has most recently been working as a senior research physicist at Princeton and has a wealth of experience in the private and public sectors, including vice president of research at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. Brinkman earned his Bachelors degree and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Missouri.

Kristina Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the undersecretary for the Department of Energy (DOE). If confirmed, Johnson would lead DOE initiatives to promote energy efficiency and renewable energies. She would oversee the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, which includes oversight of efforts to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration. Before working at Johns Hopkins, Johnson was the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University from 1999 to 2007. She also served on the engineering faculty at the University of Colorado-Boulder from 1985 to 1999. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford. 

President Obama has nominated Ines Triay to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Department of Energy Environmental Management Office (EMO). Triay has a wealth of experience with clean-up efforts from Cold War weapons programs. She has been the EMO’s acting assistant secretary since November 2008 and has served as the principal deputy assistant secretary since October 2007. Triay would take over the often beleaguered $5.8 billion clean-up program that has been listed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as “high risk” and vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse. Triay received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Miami (FL).  

**Federal Emergency Management Agency
President Obama has nominated Craig Fugate to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fugate has served as head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) since 2001, a position in which he directed statewide relief efforts following eight major hurricanes that battered Florida in 2004 and 2005. Fugate’s entire career has focused on emergency services. He started as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, eventually directing Alachua County (FL) emergency services for a decade before moving to FDEM. Fugate’s nomination will require Senate confirmation.

**Office of Science and Technology Policy
On March 4, 2009 President Obama announced his choice of Sherburne Abbott to serve as the associate director of environment at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Abbott currently directs the Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability at the University of Texas-Austin, and has extensive experience in sustainable development issues, including service as the chief international officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Abbot received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Baltimore’s Goucher College and a master’s degree in environmental science and natural resources policy from Yale.

4. President Obama Addresses the National Academy of Sciences

President Obama became the first President since John F. Kennedy to address the National Academy of Sciences during his first year in office when he spoke at the 146th annual meeting of the Academy on April 27, 2009. While recalling the importance of the “sputnik moment” during Kennedy’s lifetime, the most urgent and Earth shattering message in his pro-science speech was a call for a commitment of greater than 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for research and development.

He called for such a commitment to science in these tough economic times, recalling efforts by President Lincoln in tough times more than a century ago. Obama said “Lincoln refused to accept that our nation's sole purpose was mere survival.  He created this academy, founded the land grant colleges, and began the work of the transcontinental railroad, believing that we must add -- and I quote -- "the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery... of new and useful things."” Likewise, Obama noted, “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”

Among the President’s new initiatives is one called “RE-ENERGYSE” (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), that will be jointly funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. The program will provide education opportunities in energy careers and energy research through curricula, creative uses of technology for teaching, partnerships between the public and private sector to educate students and undergraduate to post-graduate fellowships for college-level education, research and training.

The full text of the speech and a fact sheet are available from the White House website.

5. President’s Science Council Announced

During President Obama’s speech at the National Academy of Sciences, he also announced that the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) has been named.

PCAST will be co-chaired by John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate.

Below are the biographical sketches of five members of PCAST with the closest ties to the geosciences from the White House press release. Only one has a degree in the geosciences, Professor Dan Schrag from Harvard.

Rosina Bierbaum, a widely-recognized expert in climate-change science and ecology, is Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. Her PhD is in evolutionary biology and ecology. She served as Associate Director for Environment in OSTP in the Clinton Administration, as well as Acting Director of OSTP in 2000-2001. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Christopher Chyba is Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences. His scientific work focuses on solar system exploration and his security-related research emphasizes nuclear and biological weapons policy, proliferation, and terrorism. He served on the White House staff from 1993 to 1995 at the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and was awarded a MacArthur Prize Fellowship (2001) for his work in both planetary science and international security.

Mario Molina is a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment in Mexico City. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his role in elucidating the threat to the Earth's ozone layer of chlorofluorocarbon gases. The only Mexican-born Nobel laureate in science, he served on PCAST for both Clinton terms. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Ernest J. Moniz is a Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Director of the Energy Initiative, and Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT. His research centers on energy technology and policy, including the future of nuclear power, coal, natural gas, and solar energy in a low-carbon world. He served as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy (1997-2001) and Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997).

Daniel Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is also Director of the Harvard University-wide Center for Environment. He was trained as a marine geochemist and has employed a variety of methods to study the carbon cycle and climate over a wide range of Earth’s history. Awarded a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 2000, he has recently been working on technological approaches to mitigating future climate change.

Please visit the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy website for more information about PCAST and OSTP.

6. President’s Task Force Seeks Comments on Scientific Integrity

The following federal register notice appeared on April 23, 2009 in volume 74, number 77 on page 18597.

On March 9, 2009, the President issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on the subject of scientific integrity. The memorandum requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to craft recommendations for Presidential action to ensure scientific integrity in the executive branch. This notice solicits public input to inform the drafting of those recommendations. The notice asks a series of questions to help guide the public in responding to this request.

There is a 21 day period for public comment from April 23, 2009 to May 13, 2009.

You may submit comments by any of the following methods: Web Site: Click the link to ‘‘Scientific Integrity’’ and follow the instructions for submitting comments electronically. Electronic Mail:

All members of the geosciences community are encouraged to view the full notice online and consider providing comments as appropriate and related to the six specific principles listed in the full notice. A link is also provided below in the Key Federal Register section of this Monthly Review.

7. Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2010

The House and the Senate passed a budget resolution (S.Con.Res.13) for fiscal year 2010 that provides non-binding guidance on discretionary spending bills on April 29, 2009. The resolution calls for $1.086 trillion in discretionary spending, while increasing the statutory limit on the public debt from $12.104 trillion to $13.29 trillion. The spending is about $10 billion short of the President’s request. About $556 billion or a little more than half of the spending is for defense. About $31 billion is directed toward science, space and technology in function 250, about $5 billion is directed toward energy in function 270, about $38 billion is directed toward natural resources and environmental programs in function 300 and about $94 billion is directed toward education in function 500.

The resolution allows for several deficit-neutral reserve funds for higher education and for clean energy and protecting the environment. The resolution does not contain any reconciliation instructions that could be used for filibuster-proof action on climate change legislation, so one can expect some tough battles over climate change bills in the Senate as well as in the House.

The resolution was passed along party lines without a single vote of approval from any Republicans and true to his word to remain independent, newly-converted Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) voted against the measure also.

President Obama’s detailed budget request for fiscal year 2010 will be presented this week. Look for special updates from AGI’s Government Affairs Program on the budget requests for key geosciences programs in the next week or two.

8. Water Science Bill Passes House Vote

On April 23, 2009, the House passed the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act (H.R. 1145), a bill intended to improve coordination in areas of water research and management among the numerous federal agencies involved with water resources. Introduced by House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), H.R. 1145 would direct the President to implement a National Water Research and Development Initiative under the direction of an interagency committee. This committee would be charged with creating the National Water Availability Research and Assessment Plan that would coordinate all federal, state, local, and tribal governments’ water-related activities. Such activities include water science research, development, demonstration, data collection and dissemination, education, and technology transfer. H.R. 1145 specifies several goals for the interagency committee to work towards, including the implementation of a national water census, development of a new generation of water monitoring techniques, development of technologies for enhancing reliable water supplies, improvement in water efficiency technologies, creation of processes and tools to facilitate resolutions in potential conflicts over water, improvement in hydrologic prediction models, and analysis of the water-energy nexus.

Many of the policies included in H.R. 1145 follow recommendations made in the 2008 publication by the American Geological Institute, Critical Needs for the Twenty First Century: the Role of Geosciences. The recommendations in the water section of the document highlighted by H.R. 1145 are: the call for a national water census, enhancement of a national water monitoring network, and greater cooperation of federal agencies involved in water research. The document also calls for the USGS to be the lead federal water agency, a provision that has not yet made it into legislation.

H.R. 1145 is not the first attempt at developing a national water census, however. The Bush Administration’s fiscal year 2009 budget called for a $8.2 million increase to implement a national census as part of the Water for America Initiative, a program within the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation to assess the nation’s water supply and strategize ways to develop and protect the resource. With both Administrations noting the critical need for a nation water census, the bill is likely to be well received as it moves onto the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

9. Senate Working on Energy and Water Bills

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has four major energy and water bills highlighted on their website besides a measure to reform hardrock mining that was summarized in last month’s Monthly Review.

The 21st Century Energy Technology Deployment Act (S.949) would implement reforms to the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program, including creating a new “Clean Energy Investment Fund” to allow collected costs and payments be used to support more technology deployment. The bill would also create a new entity housed in DOE, the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA), with strong financial expertise and with a specific purpose to create an attractive investment environment for the development and deployment of new clean energy technologies. Once the Secretary and the Administrator of CEDA agree it is ready, the Clean Energy Investment Fund becomes the seed fund for the new entity.

The Restoring America’s Manufacturing Leadership through Energy Efficiency Act of 2009 (S. 661) would implement programs at DOE to help manufacturers and industry develop energy efficient technologies through loans and public-private partnerships for the development of new technologies.

The Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009 (S. 531) directs the Secretary of Energy to have the National Academy of Sciences conduct an in-depth analysis of the impact of energy development and production on U.S. water resources. It requires the Secretary to conduct a study to identify the best available technologies and related strategies to maximize water and energy efficiency in the production of electricity by each type of generation. It also requires the Secretary to develop an Energy-Water Research and Development Roadmap and the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration to conduct an assessment of energy consumption in various sectors of the economy that are associated with the acquisition, treatment, or delivery of water.

The bill also directs the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to evaluate the quantities of energy used in water storage and delivery operations in major reclamation projects; and  to operate, manage, and maintain the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Otero County, New Mexico, to carry out research, development, and demonstration activities to develop technologies and methods that promote brackish groundwater desalination as a viable method to increase water supply in a cost-effective manner.

10. Soot Study Bill Brings Together an Unlikely Pair of Senators

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) are co-sponsors along with Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and John Kerry (D-MA), of a bill to study soot or black carbon to assess the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. The measure, S.849, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct the study.

11. Murkowski Introduces Volcano Early Warning System Bill

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act (S. 782) on April 2, 2009 along with Senator Mark Begich (D-AK). The bill would establish the proposed system within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) by upgrading existing networks, installing new networks on unmonitored volcanoes, and creating a 24/7 watch office and national volcano data center with a budget of $15 million per year. The USGS would be required to coordinate its activities with the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, FEMA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to achieve the primary objective of increasing community resiliency to volcanic threats through education and early warning.

The need for such a program was documented in a 2005 report by the USGS of the current volcanic threats and gaps in monitoring capabilities for 57 dangerous and under-monitored volcanoes. The Alaskan volcano Mount Redoubt, which began erupting on March 22 and continued throughout April to disrupt air traffic and threaten an oil storage facility, was listed as 1 of those 57 volcanoes.

12. House Considers International Research Measure

The House Science and Technology Committee unanimously passed the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1736) on April 29, 2009. The bill would reinstate the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET), a group created under former President Bill Clinton and dissolved under former President George W. Bush, that focused on developing policies to aid U.S. federal agencies in establishing cooperative science and technology programs with other countries. The bill directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Science and Technology Committee to oversee CISET, which in turn would coordinate international science and technology partnerships between federal research agencies and the State Department.

13. Democrats Introduce No Child Left Inside Act

On April 22, 2009 House and Senate Democrats introduced the No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 (S.866 and H.R. 2054). The bipartisan bill, introduced on Earth Day, would amend the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act with a funding provision of $500 million over the next five years to support the development of school curricula geared towards hands-on education outdoors as well as the creation of professional training opportunities for environmental education teachers. The bills come at a time when U.S. children are spending about half as much time outdoors as they once did 20 years ago, according to a National Wildlife Federation study.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a co-author of the bill, stated that “teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools.” Most of the bill’s funding would go to the states to be competitively awarded to school districts and qualifying nonprofit organizations for programs that allow students to connect with nature through outdoor lessons. At least 30 percent of the funding would go directly to school districts to train teachers in environmental education. Supporters of the bill also believe these programs will increase student’s awareness of career opportunities in the environmental sector and stimulate interest in ecological issues. 

14. EPA Rules That GHGs Are Hazardous To Your Health

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on April 17, 2009 that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are indeed threatening to public health and welfare. In the much anticipated report, the EPA found “that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,” explained Administrator Lisa Jackson. The findings also propose that vehicular emissions are contributing to this pollution. Therefore the EPA can monitor GHG emissions as part of the Clean Air Act, something the agency has been trying to determine since the 2007 Supreme Court order to conduct this report.

Though the report does not suggest any specific regulations, the implications are huge. Since the EPA has jurisdiction of pollutants included in the Clean Air Act, the findings give the EPA official responsibility for controlling GHG emissions. The EPA could have complete power over limiting vehicle emissions and potentially imposing caps on industry unless Congress passes legislation to tackle these issues. There has been a push in Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation, but it is uncertain whether there is enough support yet to pass such a bill. Some see the ruling as motivation for Congress to move faster in their consideration of climate and energy bills, especially amid fears that the EPA will use this rule to regulate everything from cars to cows. If the EPA did undertake such a broad and complex set of new regulations and standards, it could easily be overwhelmed. However these are just speculations since the EPA has not put forth any actual rules, and will not announce any, until after the public comment period for the proposal is over on June 23, 2009.

For more information on the findings and submitting comments, visit the EPA website.

15. Proposed Development of Education Standards in Math – Science May be Next?

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) want to create national math and language arts high school graduation standards by the summer of 2009 and grade specific national standards by 2010. Rigorous national standards would ensure that students are ready for college and the workplace. Arkansas and Florida have taken the lead on this initiative, and other states are asked to commit their support of common standards in writing by the end of May. Georgia and Minnesota have already pledged their support. The undertaking will require coordination not only between states, but between colleges, high schools, and the federal government in order to develop and implement practical standards nationwide.

The idea is gaining popularity in Congress too. Witnesses urged the House Committee on Education and Labor to support state efforts to develop internationally benchmarked academic standards at a hearing on April 29, 2009. Common standards are also a priority of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who proposed using stimulus money to develop standards.

16. Experts Call For Federal Measures to Protect Coasts and Ocean Resources

The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) pressed for stronger federal ocean regulations to address the threats coastal regions face from climate change and offshore energy production in a 44-page report presented to the Obama Administration and policymakers on April 7, 2009. The JOCI panel members called for a new cabinet-level ocean policy coordinator. The report indicated that a “lack of rational management strategy” and limited ocean science studies have resulted in significant reduction in the economic vitality provided by the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. The recommendations made were based on previous reports from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission over the last 5 years that predicted dire conditions in coastal areas resulting from climate change-induced sea level increases over the coming decades.

The JOCI panel also called for the urgent ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty. The Law of the Sea Treaty, ratified by over 150 nations since the mid-1990s, set international standards for navigating and managing marine areas as well as defining offshore jurisdiction of resources. The U.S. however is not a treaty member, as efforts to ratify the measure have stalled in the Senate. The Obama Administration has made it clear of its intention to ratify the treaty, as several nations party to the treaty are claiming resources in the Arctic that have become more readily available due to melting ice caps. 

17. World Oceans Day

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has recently designated June 8 as World Oceans Day, starting in 2009. The designation came in the recent UNGA resolution 63/111, titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea,” as a statement of solidarity from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to identify the goal of promoting peace, security, and cooperation of all nations regarding the use of the world’s oceans.

18. Largest Tornado Research Project Starts In May

More than 100 scientists and staff from the federal government, universities, and non-profits, equipped with research vehicles and mobile radars, will study the origin, structure, and evolution of tornadoes starting in May 2009. The Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2, or VORTEX2, is an about $10 million joint project between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is the largest tornado research project in history and will last for two tornado seasons. This is an expansion of the original VORTEX project, which improved severe weather warnings. VORTEX2 will build on the previous work, using advances in technology to collect more detailed storm data to understand why tornadoes form and how to more accurately forecast and track them. For more information and to see updates on the project, visit the project website.

19. Geoscientists Make Their Presence Known on Capitol Hill

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Geological Society of America (GSA) and the American Geological Institute (AGI) hosted 25 geoscientists representing 9 different states at the 14th Annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (SET-CVD). The event, organized by a working group of 35 societies and associations, brought nearly 250 different scientists, engineers, and students to Capitol Hill on April 28-29, 2009. The mission of SET-CVD was to stress the importance of federally funded research and development, to advocate for continued funding for the sciences, and to thank members of Congress for supporting science in the stimulus and fiscal year 2009 budget.

On their visits the geosciences participants forwarded this message as well as the specific need for continued support of geosciences research and development. The participants were well received by the staff, who showed genuine interest in the geosciences. In several cases the participants were asked to follow up with more information and to serve as a resource in the future. Thanks to the many participants, the geosciences are increasing their presence on Capitol Hill.

20. Key Reports and Publications

*** Congressional Research Service ***
Carbon Tax and Greenhouse Gas Control, Options and Considerations for Congress.
Released February 23, 2009.  This report examines the potential effectiveness of the two most commonly touted approaches to mitigating the release of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the cap-and-trade system (quantity control) and the carbon tax proposal (price control), with special emphasis on the economics of a carbon-tax system.

Ocean Acidification
Released February 20, 2009. This report provides a background on the issues of higher levels of atmospherically-derived carbon dioxide dissolved in the world’s oceans, which has been identified by marine researchers as a serious threat to food chains throughout the ocean community. Also discussed are steps the federal government has taken to reduce the rate of acidification.

Financing Recovery from Large-Scale Natural Disasters
Released February 9, 2009. Contained in this report is an analysis of the state of the insurance industry relating to large-scale catastrophes such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Also discussed is what role the federal government could play by becoming involved with insurance markets to ensure long-term infrastructure reinvestment in disaster-stricken areas. 

*** Government Accountability Office ***
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites: Acquisition Has Increased Costs, Reduced Capabilities, and Delayed Schedules
Released April 23, 2009. Found in this report is an analysis by the GAO of the new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R), the next generation of environmental monitoring satellites set to replace the aging fleet of satellites currently in orbit. The report discusses the current status of the program, budget issues associated with the GOES-R series, and whether the current plans of the two federal agencies involved with the satellite program, NOAA and NASA, are adequate to meet the nation’s future environmental data needs.

Oil and Gas Management: Federal Oil and Gas Resource Management and Revenue Collection In Need of Stronger Oversight and Comprehensive Reassessment.
Released April 2, 2009. This report discusses findings from several GAO reports concerning federal management of oil and natural gas leases. The report indicates that the Department of Interior has not taken on key recommendations made by the GAO for re-evaluation of the procedures in leasing areas, and until this is done, the public should not have confidence that oil and gas resources are being properly managed.

Wildland Fire Management: Actions by Federal Agencies and Congress Could Mitigate Rising Fire Costs and Their Effects on Other Agency Programs.
Released April 1, 2009. This report from the GAO discusses finding and recommendations regarding the increase in costs over the last decade for fighting wildfires on public lands and how the several federal agencies manage funding for firefighting activity.

*** National Academy of Sciences ***
Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Systems: A Framework for Meeting 21st Century Imperatives.
Prepublication released April 9, 2009. This report discusses the critical infrastructure needs for the U.S. in the 21st century and presents recommendations redeveloping the nation’s infrastructure that keeps the U.S. economy globally competitive while considering energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

22. Key Federal Register Notices

The Federal Register Notices are available online.

DOI--The National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) will conduct a meeting on May 12-13, 2009 at the George Washington University Cafritz Conference Center in Washington, DC. NGAC consists of representatives from governmental, private sector, non-profit, and academic organizations that advise the Chair of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FDGC) on management of Federal geospatial programs and the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Topics to be addressed at the meeting include current FGDC activities, national geospatial policy and strategy, an update on NGAC subcommittee activities, including the national map, and updates on partnerships, parcel data, communications, economic recovery, and governance. The meeting will include an opportunity for public comment during the morning of May 13. Comments may also be submitted to the NGAC in writing. Members of the public planning to attend the meeting must register in advance by contacting Arista Maher (703-648-6283 or Registrations are due by May 8, 2009.
[Wednesday, April 8 (Vol. 74, No. 66)]

DOI--The advisory committee for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) will hold a meeting on May 12-13, 2009 at the University of West Virginia (UWV) in Morgantown, WV. The committee will receive updates on progress of the NCGMP towards fulfilling the purposes of the 1992 National Geological Mapping Act, the federal, state, and educational components of NCGMP, and the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program. The committee will also discuss future technologies applicable to geologic mapping. The meetings, which are open to the public, will be in Room 324 of Brooks Hall on the UWV campus, and will start at 8:30 am. For more information, contact Linda Jacobsen at the USGS (703-648-4335).
[Wednesday, April 15 (Vol. 74, No. 71)]

OSTP--The March 9, 2009 Presidential Memo on scientific integrity requires the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop recommendations for presidential action to ensure scientific integrity within the executive branch. OSTP is soliciting public input to assist in the drafting of recommendations for the Obama Administration. A series of questions is provided by the OSTP to help guide the public in responses. Comments must be received by May 13, 2009 electronically at: Recommendations can also be emailed to OSTP at  
[Thursday, April 23 (Vol. 74, No. 77)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency Administrator is proposing to find that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. In light of the likelihood that greenhouse gases cause these effects, and the magnitude of the effects that are occurring and are very likely to occur in the future, the Administrator proposes to find that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The Administrator is also proposing to find that new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines are contributing to this mix of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Comments on this proposed action must be received on or before June 23, 2009. Submit written comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0171, by email ( or fax (202) 566-1741.
[Friday, April 24 (Vol. 74, No. 78)]

NIST--The National Institute of Science and Technology recently announced the solicitation for applications for the Professional Research Experience Program (PREP) from accredited colleges and universities. The intent of the program is for academic institutions to provide financial assistance for students to gain laboratory and professional experience at the NIST laboratories in Boulder, CO. All applications must be received electronically or by postal mail by May 28, 2009. Electronic submissions can uploaded at Questions regarding the program should be address to Ms. O’Connor ( or 303-497-5238). The PREP website can be accessed at  
[Tuesday, April 28 (Vol. 74, No. 80)]

MMS--The Minerals Management Service is publishing its final regulations to establish a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), as well as certain previously unauthorized activities involving alternate use of existing facilities on the OCS and the establishment of methods for revenue sharing generated by this program with nearby coastal states. The final rule becomes effective June 29, 2009. The environmental assessment analyzing this rule, which can be found at:  For further information, contact Maureen Bornholdt (703-787-1300 or or Amy White (703-787-1665 or
[Wednesday, April 29 (Vol. 74, No. 81)]

23. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program and Clint Carney, AAPG/AGI Spring 2009 Intern.

Sources: Greenwire, Associated Press, Environment and Energy Daily, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, Government Accountability Office, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House.
This monthly review 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.  Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at  <> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Posted May 5, 2009.


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