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Monthly Review: April 2010

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 The current monthly review and archived monthly reviews are all available online. Subscribe to receive the Government Affairs Monthly Review by email.

    ***Administration News and Updates***
  1. Obama Seeks Input on Grand Challenges in Science and Engineering
  2. Administration Works on Non-Proliferation and Russian Agreement
  3. Administration’s Task Force Begins Discussion of Carbon Capture and Storage
  4. Administration’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Disaster

  5. ***Congressional News and Updates***
  6. House Committee Passes America COMPETES Reauthorization Bill
  7. House Introduces Open Access Bill
  8. Senate Committee Passes Budget Resolution
  9. House Climate Change Bill and Senate Energy Bill Stifled in April
  10. Senate Grapples with Carbon Capture and Storage
  11. Amendment to Energy Act of 2005 To Encourage Natural Gas R&D
  12. House Tackles Definition of ‘Navigable’ Waters
  13. Call For ‘Priority’ Water Projects Ahead of New WRDA
  14. Estuary Conservation Bill Passes House
  15. Hearing Held on Arctic Mapping Bill
  16. House Considers Helium-3 Shortage
  17. House Begins Hearings on Next Farm Bill
  18. House Appropriations Chairman, David Obey, Announces Retirement

    ***Federal Agency News and Updates***
  19. MMS Rewrites Gas Flaring and Production Rates from Offshore Wells
  20. EPA Reports on Climate Change Indicators
  21. NSF and NIH Partner in Commerce Department Innovation Award Competition
  22. EPA and NASA Renew Agreement on Environmental and Earth Science

  23. ***Other News and Updates***
  24. Research Paper Claims Carbon Capture and Geologic Storage Is Not Feasible
  25. Science Academies Name Committee to Review IPCC
  26. Virginia Attorney General Request Records of Climate Scientist Michael Mann
  27. Citizen Geoscientists Make Their Case on Capitol Hill
  28. Geoscientists Show Policymakers the Value of NSF-Funded Research
  29. Congressional Hazards Caucus and Alliance Host Volcano Briefing
  30. Universities to Hold Summits on Student Shortages in Agricultural and Natural Sciences
  31. AGU Chooses New Executive Director
  32. Annual Pick and Gavel Award Given to Murkowski and Holt
  33. Karst Portal Has a New Look
  34. Key Reports and Publications
  35. Key Federal Register Notices
  36. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Obama Seeks Input on Grand Challenges in Science and Engineering

As part of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, the administration seeks ideas for how to apply science and technology to the “grand challenges” of the 21st century. The grand challenges, as defined by the Obama Administration, are in the areas of health, clean energy, national security, and education. For more information, see the February GAP Monthly Review article.

Join the dialogue on Twitter by replying to @whitehouse (using hashtag #whgc). For those not on Twitter, you can email your ideas to

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 2. Administration Works on Non-Proliferation and Russian Agreement

President Obama is working to achieve a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia. The agreement would allow Russia and the U.S. to work together on nuclear trade, technology and research and even allow Russia to import, store and possibly reprocess spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world. This might help to create business opportunities and mitigate nuclear waste issues. The work on the agreement has been accelerated by a two-day nuclear security summit in Washington, DC where Obama brokered a non-binding agreement with 46 nations to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and the beginning of a month-long U.N. Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May.

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 3. Administration’s Task Force Begins Discussion of Carbon Capture and Storage

The President’s Interagency Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Task Force held its first public meeting on May 6, 2010. The task force is suppose to provide a plan for developing 5 to 10 commercial CCS projects by 2016. Some called this goal too ambitious, while others indicated more optimism and stated that the various technologies already existed in part and just need to be put together. CCS is considered essential for coal-fired power plants. Coal accounts for about 51 percent of U.S. electricity generation and about 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

There are no coal-fired power plants with fully operational CCS systems even though the federal government has spent $4 billion on the technology and the private industry has invested about $7 billion. Some experts at the meeting suggested that another $3 - $4 billion needs to be invested in CCS development. Deploying the technology will also have costs with a price as high as $110 per metric ton of carbon dioxide called for at the meeting. Current legislation in Congress is considering a price closer to $20 per metric ton. In addition, a recent research paper (see summary item #22 below) questions the feasibility of geologic sequestration for mitigating climate change on a national or global scale.

The task force has a massive task ahead of them trying to understand the research, development and deployment needs and then trying to plan a practical, economical and feasible plan for commercial scale CCS. The task force will accept public comments until July 2, 2010.

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 4. Administration’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Disaster

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico, led to fatalities, injuries, an emergency evacuation, a massive fire and the eventual collapse of the oil rig. After the fire was extinguished, it was determined that oil was leaking from the damaged well at the seafloor. The oil spill is fouling the environment, affecting commerce and requiring a massive response from industry, government, other stakeholders and volunteers.

BP leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig from Transocean to complete an exploratory well at the Macondo Prospect (Mississippi Canyon Block 252). BP is being held responsible for the damage and clean-up by the U.S. government at this time under the Oil Pollution Act. Other industry partners involved in assessment, clean-up and potential liability include Transocean, the oil rig operator, Halliburton, whose workers were finishing a cement casing near the time of the explosion and Cameron, which supplied the blowout preventer that is being implicated as failing to stop the subsequent oil leak.

There is not enough information at this time to determine the cause of the catastrophe. The Deepwater Horizon was working at a water depth of about 5,000 feet. Responding to such a major catastrophe at such a deep water depth has not been attempted before.

Efforts to mitigate the disaster so far have included burning the oil off the water surface, injecting chemical dispersants on the surface and at depth, containing and skimming the oil off of the surface, preparing to place a large containment device over the leak and preparing to drill a relief well to intercept the damaged pipeline at a deeper level to plug the pipe and remove any excess oil through the relief well.

After the initial emergency response by the U.S. Coast Guard and BP, the National Contingency Plan was initiated. Interagency coordination included the Coast Guard; the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Commerce (DOC), Interior (DOI); and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These agencies provide  federal assets and  oversight of BP’s response. Rear Admiral Mary Landry was named the Federal On-Scene Coordinator and a Regional Response Team was stood up that included the U.S. Coast Guard, DHS, DOC/NOAA, DOI and the EPA, as well as state and local representatives.
Once it was determined that the spill was significant, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, declared the disaster a Spill of National Significance and appointed U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen as the National Incident Commander. Many additional federal resources have been called in, including Department of Defense assets and the National Guard.

The Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service (MMS) were given the power to begin a joint investigation into the causes of the catastrophe. MMS set up an Emergency Operations Center in New Orleans and has been providing guidance, oversight and permitting for clean-up and spill containment efforts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deployed  a scientific support coordinator and is providing weather condition reports,  assessments of  the oceanic and atmospheric conditions, seafood inspections and tracking the extent of the spill. The Environmental Protection Agency is providing assessments and helping with air and water quality sampling, control and clean-up.

The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service are providing scientific support, assessments and helping to coordinate responses for environmental impacts to coastal ecosystems. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is providing airborne and satellite-based assets to monitor the extent of the spill and helping NOAA with forecasts of spill trajectories. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency and the Center for Disease Control are training, assessing and monitoring human health effects of all workers and volunteers in the affected areas.

Specific actions taken by the federal government include: NOAA has issued fishing restrictions in affected areas, DOI has issued a moratorium on new offshore drilling until the investigation is completed, DOI has directed MMS to conduct physical inspections of all deepwater rigs and platforms and DOI has established an Outer Continental Shelf Safety Oversight Board.

More information about the Administration’s response to the Deepwater Horizon collapse and spill is available from the Department of the Interior’s response web page at

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 5. House Committee Passes America COMPETES Reauthorization Bill

At the end of April the House Science and Technology Committee passed the America COMPETES reauthorization (H.R. 5116) with a substitute amendment. The measure authorizes significant increases for physical science research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill continues a doubling path for these programs that started with the original America COMPETES Act of 2007. The amendment reduces the authorization levels and extends the doubling time line from 7 years to about 10 years. The committee reduced the authorization levels in order to earn support from Republicans, who are concerned about spending increases during an economic recovery. The President’s request is more conservative, calling for a doubling path of 11 years.

The bill authorizes increases for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and spending for Energy Innovation Hubs at DOE. Other aspects of the measure of interest to the geosciences community includes a call for a task force on public access to federally-funded research, specifications regarding funding for science education research at NSF and DOE and legislative guidelines for research spending for DOE programs. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) hopes the legislation will be debated and voted on by the full House before Memorial Day. More changes may be made to the bill in the House.  The Senate has held one hearing on the American scientific competitiveness, but no legislation has been introduced. The Senate may choose to start with the House bill.

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 6. House Introduces Open Access Bill

Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rick  Boucher (D-VA), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Gregg Harper (R-MO) introduce a measure for federal agencies to provide public access to federally-funded research on April 15. The bill, Federal Research Public Access Act of 2009 (H.R. 5037) would require every federal agency with more than $100 million in extramural research expenditures to provide public access to research papers and research results. The measure stipulates that an author should submit an electronic version of the original manuscript or research results to the agency.  The author must then submit any revised manuscript after peer-review and with the publisher’s permission the final published version. The manuscripts must be made available to the public within six months of publication. Agencies would also be required to maintain a database of all published research findings.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The bill is identical to a Senate measure (S.1373) introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) in June of 2009 and referred to the Senate Homeland Security and  Government Affairs Committee. It is unclear whether either bill will move through Congress or whether the bills might be included with others.

There is language in the America COMPETES reauthorization (H.R. 5116) that calls for further study of public access to research. Specifically the introduced measure calls for a working group to be established under the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate federal science agency policies related to the dissemination and long-term preservation of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed publications.

Authors, publishers and other stakeholders of unclassified research should consider the language in these bills and provide input to policymakers now.

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 7. Senate Committee Passes Budget Resolution

On April 22, the Senate Budget Committee passed a budget resolution (S.Con. Res. 60) that freezes spending for most domestic programs and does not include any climate change language. There had been rumors that the committee might include climate change legislation because the resolution is part of the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.

The bill authorizes $1.124 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2011. The energy and natural resources functions would see small  increases in FY2011 followed by flat to slightly decreasing spending for future years, while transportation would see some reductions. Defense would be the only function to see increases in spending over multiple years. Other requests in the resolution of interest to the geosciences community include an additional $500 million for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, state energy efficiency programs and development of low carbon technologies; $475 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative; $3.5 billion for EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; and increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites.

There is great uncertainty about whether the Senate will pass this resolution and the House appears to be waiting to see what the Senate does before acting in their chamber. Recently, these nonbinding budget resolutions have failed to pass in election years and there is little optimism for passage this year. Nonetheless, the measure signifies some of the priorities of policymakers in dealing with concerns about the federal budget.

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 8. House Climate Change Bill and Senate Energy Bill Stifled in April

Plans by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to introduce a compromise climate change and energy bill on Earth Day (April 22) fell through. Senator Graham dropped out of the effort because the Senate announced plans to consider an immigration bill before climate and energy. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster is also complicating efforts to compromise because likely legislation is thought to involve incentives for offshore oil and gas drilling.

Kerry and Lieberman recently announced that they do plan to unveil their legislation in May without the public support of Graham. Meanwhile the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee completed work on their energy bill, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462). They approved nine amendments on May 5 including research and development funding for efficient lighting, wind energy, and hydropower efficiency. One amendment creates an award for carbon capture and sequestration technological innovation.

The House-approved climate change bill (H.R. 2454) still awaits a comparable Senate bill for conferencing to work out compromise legislation. The Senate energy bill (S.1462) and the possible Kerry-Liebermann bill are the most likely measures the Senate may consider. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy Committee has called for the Senate to consider S.1462 on its own with possible floor amendments to address climate change issues, however, several other senators indicate an energy-only bill is not workable.

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 9. Senate Grapples with Carbon Capture and Storage

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered three measures on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in public hearings. One measure would provide $20 billion in incentives for CCS deployment, a second measure (S.1134) would authorize $3.8 billion in spending for CCS research and demonstration and a third measure (S.1856) would establish that subsurface pore space below federal lands belongs to the U.S. government. Over in the House, the climate change bill (H.R. 2454) provides $60 billion in incentives for CCS deployment and additional spending for CCS research and demonstration. Congress, like the President’s Interagency Task Force (see summary #3), is trying to advance CCS as a major tool to mitigate climate change, especially from coal-fired power plants.

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 10. Amendment to Energy Act of 2005 To Encourage Natural Gas R&D

Representative Harry Teague (D-NM) introduced the Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Research and Development Act (H.R. 5062), which would amend the Energy Act of 2005 to promote natural gas and oil drilling and exploration. The legislation would expand the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) program between universities and the energy industry, with about 80 percent of the funding in H.R. 5062 for university researchers. H.R. 5062 would authorize the Department of Energy's unconventional domestic natural gas research and development program for an additional 3 years until October 2017, triple federal funding for the program, and increase funding for commercial technology development.

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 11. House Tackles Definition of ‘Navigable’ Waters

In an attempt to clarify the bodies of water covered by the Clean Water Act, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced the America's Commitment to Clean Water Act (H.R. 5088) to remove the word ‘navigable’ from the law passed in 1972. This is the fifth attempt to amend the definition to reflect what supporters call the original intent of the law. Supporters have said the Clean Water Act is supposed to reduce pollution to all freshwater bodies, including rivers, streams, and wetlands, regardless of their size. However, two Supreme Court decisions have upheld the literal interpretation of the bill to apply only to waters defined as ‘navigable’. 

Despite repeated defeats, Oberstar is hopeful for passage this year. Companion legislation pass through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (S. 787), though it met strong Republican opposition. Oberstar will face even more opposition as many farm and industry groups remain skeptical of the changes. They argue that passage will give the federal government too much control over all bodies of water, including imposing pollution regulations on gutters, puddles, and ditches. Oberstar submitted a letter (PDF) to his colleagues clarifying exemptions to his proposed rule. These exemptions would include irrigation ditches, stock ponds, and other areas associate with wastewater and croplands. Still, some worry that this bill will fail to sufficiently clarify the Clean Water Act, keeping it open for broad interpretation.

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 12. Call For ‘Priority’ Water Projects Ahead of New WRDA

Ahead of consideration of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2010, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) have called on Senate colleagues to submit “priority” water project proposals by May 18. A new WRDA is supposed to be passed every two years to authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water infrastructure projects, but the last two WRDA bills were passed in 2007 and 2000. Boxer and Inhofe hope their push will help expedite passage in Congress.

WRDA projects include everything from beach and ecosystem restoration to flood control measures and focus on job creation and economic development. Critics oppose WRDA because they see the money as funding special interest projects. It is one of the few mechanisms for local water projects can receive federal funding. USACE is slowly implementing reform mandates required in WRDA-2007, like completing independent reviews of large or controversial projects and setting environmental goals equal to economic development.

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 13. Estuary Conservation Bill Passes House

The Clean Estuaries Act of 2010 (H.R. 4715), to amend the Clean Water Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program, passed the House on April 15, 2010. H.R. 4715 will modernize the National Estuary Program by creating a comprehensive approach to estuary management that includes upstream waters, commercial activities, climate change effects, and public outreach and education. The bill mandates conservations plans for estuaries that include accounting for sea level changes, restoring the Great Lakes, and looking at whole “estuarine zones” that include tributaries, transitional areas, and associated aquatic ecosystems. H.R. 4715 authorizes $50 million annually through fiscal year 2015, an increase of $15 million per year from the current budget.

The program is headed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but requires coordination and collaboration with the Army, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Resources Conservation Service, and others as necessary.

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 14. Hearing Held on Arctic Mapping Bill 

The House Natural Resources Committee is discussing a new bill to map the Arctic to delineate the extent of the U.S. continental shelf and for safe navigation of the Arctic Ocean. H.R. 2864, introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), amends the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 to fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services, and conduct coastal change analyses as necessary to reach those goals. $10 million over the next two years would be dedicated to new hydrographic data and $5 million towards mapping the continental shelf.

With diminished sea ice extent, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to those looking for natural resources and new shipping lanes. Knowing the extent of the U.S. continental shelf will help the U.S. lay claim to potentially resource-rich territory in the Arctic. The data collection funded by the bill will help create a baseline map for any new energy development and safe navigation routes.

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 15. House Considers Helium-3 Shortage

The House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing in April to discuss the global shortage of the stable isotope helium-3. Helium-3 is a by-product of the Department of Energy’s production of tritium for nuclear weapons and that has been the primary source of the nation’s  supply. Since nuclear weapons production has decreased so has the supply of helium-3. The isotope is used in medical imaging, radiation monitoring portals at ports and borders, oil and gas exploration, missile technology, neutron backscattering facilities and physics experiments.

Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) admonished the Energy Department for failing to notice the shortage and wisely manage the limited supply. An interagency task force in 2009 did address the decreasing supply by allocating helium-3 for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and investigating alternatives technologies and alternative sources of helium-3. The task force continues to work on addressing the helium-3 shortage.

Geoscientists, who have expressed concerns about critical isotope and critical mineral shortages, should offer constructive comments to the task force and other stakeholders as well as considering the shortage of one isotope, element or mineral in the context of global demands for many materials.

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 16. House Begins Hearings on Next Farm Bill

The House Agriculture Committee began a series of four field hearings on the next farm bill in mid-April. Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) have noted that the committee is in the very early stages of building a new bill, are concerned about funding levels and would like more information about reforming subsidies and considering new initiatives related to renewable energy and conservation. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the only witness at the first hearing, stated that the Administration does not have a specific proposal yet for the farm bill, but the Agriculture Department is focused on five key areas: broadband access in rural areas, renewable energy and biofuels, regional food systems and supply chains, ecosystem market incentives and forest restoration and conservation.

The last farm bill passed two years ago included about $200 billion in mandatory spending for subsidies, food aid, farmland energy projects and conservation projects. Congress typically completes a new farm bill every five years, so the House and the Administration are indeed in the very early stages of formulating farm policy for the nation. Geoscientists, especially soil scientists and land and water resource managers, should follow developments on farm policy in Congress and the Administration and offer constructive comments to improve the nation’s farm policy.

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 17. House Appropriations Chairman, David Obey, Announces Retirement

Representative David Obey (D-WI), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee announced his retirement at the end of this year. Obey has served in the House for 42 years and at the age of 71 he has decided it is time to go. Obey started his political career as a Republican, but is known now as a liberal Democrat. He became chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1994 and is considered a primary architect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Representative Norman Dicks (D-WA) is next in line on the Democratic side of the Appropriations Committee. Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA) serves as the Ranking Member for the Republicans. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA) filled the Democratic vacancy on the committee due to the passing of Representative John Murtha. The November elections will determine the proportion of Democrats and Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee for the 112th Congress and with a few other announced retirements on the committee, there will be more changes to come.

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 18. MMS Rewrites Gas Flaring and Production Rates from Offshore Wells

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) published a final rule that limits natural gas flaring and production rates from offshore gas wells. The goal of the rule is for MMS to better monitor the amount of gas flaring or venting that occurs in offshore oil and gas production to ultimately reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted.

Venting is the release of natural gas into the atmosphere and flaring is when the gas releases are ignited. These processes are most often used as a safety precaution to briefly divert the flow of gas during an equipment failure. This rule will continue to allow flaring for safety reasons, but will require accurate measurement of total gas emitted to monitor volume of GHGs released.

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 19. EPA Reports on Climate Change Indicators

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on April 27 on environmental indicators that show measurable signs of climate change. Some of the key findings listed in an EPA press release include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are increasing. Between 1990 and 2008, there has been about a 14 percent increase in emissions in the United States.
  • Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental United States have occurred since 1990.
  • Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.
  • Sea levels are rising. From 1993 to 2008, sea level rose twice as fast as the long-term trend.
  • Glaciers are melting. Loss of glacier volume appears to have accelerated over the last decade.
  • The frequency of heat waves has risen steadily since the 1960s. The percentage of the U.S. population impacted by heat waves has also increased.

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 20. NSF and NIH Partner in Commerce Department Innovation Award Competition

The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is partnering with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the i6 Challenge. This competition will award up to $1 million to each of six teams across the country with the most innovative ideas to meet the Obama Administration’s goals of driving technology commercialization and developing strong public-private partnerships. In addition, up to $6 million will be awarded in NSF or NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants associated with the winning teams.

Entrepreneurs, investors, universities, foundations, and non-profits are encouraged to participate in the i6 Challenge. The deadline for applications is July 15, 2010. For more details join the informational conference call on May 17, 2010. To learn more go to

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 21. EPA and NASA Renew Agreement on Environmental and Earth Science

The Environmental Protection Agency and NASA renewed their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to foster cooperation in environmental and Earth sciences and applications between the agencies. An EPA press release concluded, “The MOA signed today promotes renewed efforts of collaboration between EPA and NASA to improve environmental and Earth science research, technology, environmental management, and the application of Earth science data, models and technology in environmental decision-making. Areas of applied research and applications expected to benefit from this partnership include climate change, air quality, and water. The re-invigorated partnership focuses on science leadership to motivate continued exploration, innovation and protection of our home planet.”

Visit EPA’s Earth Observations and Advanced Monitoring Initiative and NASA’s Earth activities web pages for more information.

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 22. Research Paper Claims Carbon Capture and Geologic Storage Is Not Feasible

A research paper by Christine Ehlig-Economides (Texas A&M University) and Michael Economides (University of Houston) and published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering is causing controversy among scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders. The research suggests that carbon capture and geologic sequestration is not a practical solution to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the American Petroleum Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Natural Resources Defense Council, other organizations, geoscientists and engineers have issued public responses disagreeing with the methods, analyses and/or conclusions of the research.

Federal agencies with a major role in carbon capture and geologic sequestration with web pages that contain more information, include Carbon Sequestration-Department of Energy, Geologic CO2 Sequestration-U.S. Geological Survey and Underground Injection Control Program-Environmental Protection Agency.

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 23. Science Academies Name Committee to Review IPCC

The InterAcademy Council, a federation of the world’s science academies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has named a committee to review the procedures and processes of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The committee and other announcements about the review are available from the IPCC  Review web page.

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 24. Virginia Attorney General Request Records of Climate Scientist Michael Mann

Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has requested the University of Virginia to provide information on any grants that climate scientist Michael Mann received or applied for that were funded by Virginia state agencies, as well as "any data, materials and communications that Dr. Mann created, presented or made in connection with" five grants he received from the university totaling $484,875. Cuccinelli is requesting the information as part of an investigation of whether Mann violated the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.

Dr. Mann is noted for publishing a paper in Nature in 1998 that showed a rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (the so called “hockey stick” diagram) and interpreted the rise to be caused by human activities. He gained further attention, when his name and private communications turned up in stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Mann was a professor at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005 and then moved to Penn State University. A Penn State investigative panel and two United Kingdom probes cleared Mann of any scientific misconduct earlier this year.

The Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to Cuccinelli urging him to rescind his request and calling it "an attempt to harass and cast doubt on a good scientist for political reasons." See the Union of Concerned Scientist related press release for more comments and a copy of their letter.

Cuccinelli’s subpoena has garnered local and national attention as have many of his other actions in his first four months in office. In the past, he has sued the federal government over attempts to regulate greenhouse gases and to challenge the health care reform legislation.

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 25. Citizen Geoscientists Make Their Case on Capitol Hill

Nearly 40 geoscientists came from across the country to raise awareness among policymakers about the value and the continued need for geoscience research, development, and education. Scientists and engineers from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership came to town as part of the fifteenth annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (SET-CVD).

The event included a LaserFest Exhibition and Reception in honor of the 50th anniversary of the laser. Exhibitors from industry to academia showcased the wide variety of scientific applications of the laser. Included were two geoscience exhibitors—David Phillips from UNAVCO in Colorado and Chris Crosby from OpenTopography at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in California—who demonstrated the versatility and utility of LiDAR data. UNAVCO had a ground-based laser scanner on hand that took three dimensional images of members of Congress and the room during the reception. OpenTopography, an online portal for user-friendly LiDAR data, displayed a variety of high resolution topographic datasets including some “fly-over” videos of major fault lines and recent earthquake surface ruptures.

This year, SET-CVD was organized by 33 groups, including AGI, AGU, UCAR and the Geological Society of America. Thanks to the many participants, the geoscience community is continuing to raise awareness of the science and increase its presence on Capitol Hill. For a full summary, see the AGI events page.

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 26. Geoscientists Show Policymakers the Value of NSF-Funded Research

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) held its sixteenth annual Exhibition and Reception on April 14, 2010 in the Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC. The exhibition provides an opportunity for scientists to present some of their NSF-funded research to policymakers and the interested public on Capitol Hill. The scientists  communicated  about the value of their research, its impacts on society and the importance of federal funding for basic research. The 2010 Exhibition involved 30 booths and more than 70 scientists. Hundreds of people attended the exhibition and learned about many different research projects. Some  of the attendees were policymakers, including nine members of Congress and many congressional staff from personal offices and committees.

The American Geological Institute (AGI), the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Geological Society of America (GSA) sponsored two booths and three research projects. The research included a study of melting permafrost in northernmost  Alaska presented by Andy Jacobson (Northwestern University);  understanding earthquake hazards in the Seattle area presented by Tim Melbourne (Central Washington University); and direct measurements of ocean acidification in the northern Pacific Ocean presented by Bob Byrne (University of South Florida) and Sabine Mecking (University of Washington).

The researchers arrived early and spent the day visiting sixteen congressional offices for  members from Florida, Illinois, Washington and  Alaska to speak  about hazards, climate change and ocean acidification related to their research.

A summary of the event is available from AGI's Government Affairs event page.

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 27. Congressional Hazards Caucus and Alliance Host Volcano Briefing

A scheduled briefing on volcanic hazards drew additional attention in the halls of Congress after Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted about a week before the briefing and spewed huge amounts of volcanic ash that  disrupted aviation over Europe for days. The briefing featured Tom Murray, a volcanologist from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Volcano Observatory, Chris Nye, a volcanologist with the Alaska Geological and Geophysical Survey, Jay Wilson, an emergency manager from Clackamas County, Oregon and Leonard J. Salinas, a flight dispatcher from United Airlines.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, co-chair of the Congressional Hazards Caucus offered opening remarks at the briefing and mentioned the National Volcano Early Warning System bill (S. 782) that she introduced with Alaska’s junior senator, Mark Begich. Representative Don Young (R-AK) has introduced similar legislation in the House (H.R. 4847).

The legislation would authorize $15 million annually for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS). NVEWS is a proposed national-scale plan to ensure the 57 most dangerous and under-monitored volcanoes in the U.S. are properly monitored by upgrading existing networks, installing new networks, and creating a 24/7 watch office and national volcano data center to provide timely and accurate hazard forecasts to reduce risk to life and property.

The presentations of the speakers are available at the Hazards Alliance web page,

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 28. Universities to Hold Summits on Student Shortages in Agricultural and Natural Sciences

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is hosting a series of national summits on the shortages of graduate students in agricultural and natural sciences at institutions of higher education in the U.S. The summit is entitled “Creating Change: Building Human Capacity for a Sustainable Future.”  AGI’s member societies and members have expressed considerable concern about gaps and shortages in the geoscience workforce, the shortages of geoscience students and the lack of geoscience educational opportunities in K-12 grade levels. Given these concerns, geoscientists should consider participating in APLU’s summits and working with stakeholders on solutions at the graduate level and in the educational system that proceeds graduate school.

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 29. AGU Chooses New Executive Director

The American Geophysical Union, one of AGI’s 47 member societies, has chosen a new executive director. Christine McEntee will become the new executive director in late August., 2010. The American Geophysical Union (AGU), which was established in 1919 by the National Research Council and for more than 50 years operated as an unincorporated affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, is now a nonprofit corporation chartered under the laws of the District of Columbia. The Union is dedicated to the furtherance of the geophysical sciences through the individual efforts of its members and in cooperation with other national and international scientific organizations. Current membership stands at 58,287 total members.

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 30. Annual Pick and Gavel Award Given to Murkowski and Holt

The Association of American State Geologists (AASG) proudly presented Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) with the 2010 Pick and Gavel Award on March 16, 2010.  The Pick and Gavel Award honors those who have made significant contributions to advancing the role of geoscience in public policy and those who have supported AASG’s goals in national policy. See the full AGI press release (PDF).

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 31. Karst Portal Has a New Look

The Karst Information Portal is a digital library linking scientists, managers, and explorers with quality information and resources concerning caves and karst environments that has recently been upgraded.  Visit toe portal for more information and updates about caves and karst.

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 32. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Services (CRS)***

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress
Released March 30, 2010. Two of the Coast Guard's three polar icebreakers, Polar Star and Polar Sea, have exceeded their intended 30-year service lives. The third polar icebreaker, Healy, has less icebreaking capability and is used primarily for supporting scientific research in the Arctic. Potential policy issues for include the numbers and capabilities of polar icebreakers the Coast Guard will need in the future; what to do about the Polar Start and Polar Sea; whether to accelerate the Coast Guard's current schedule for acquiring replacement ships; and how to fund and operate the ships. The Coast Guard's proposed FY2011 budget does not request any funding for polar icebreaker sustainment or for acquisition of new polar icebreakers.

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***

U.S. Tsunami Preparedness: NOAA Has Expanded Its Tsunami Programs, but Improved Planning Could Enhance Effectiveness
Released April 28, 2010. In analyzing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s tsunami preparedness, the report finds that NOAA should revise the Tsunami Program's and National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program’s strategic plans to ensure that they include effective strategies and performance measures for all goals, including those for the TsunamiReady program because some components of those programs have not been fully developed.

National Flood Insurance Program: Continued Actions Needed to Address Financial and Operational Issues
Released April 21, 2010. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has periodically needed to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to pay flood insurance claims. This report discusses (1) NFIP's financial challenges, (2) FEMA's operational and management challenges, and (3) actions needed to address these challenges. Addressing the financial challenges facing NFIP would likely require actions by both FEMA and Congress that involve trade-offs, and the challenges could be difficult to remedy. GAO has recommended a number of actions that FEMA could take to improve NFIP operations, and ongoing work will likely identify additional issues.

Rare Earth Materials in the Defense Supply Chain
Released April 14, 2010. This letter includes a required report on rare earth materials in the defense supply chain to the Committees on Armed Services in the Senate and House. The report finds that Department of Defense (DOD) has not yet identified national security risks or taken department-wide action to address rare earth material dependency, but is completing a study expected to be completed by the end of September 2010. Some DOD components, other federal agencies, and companies are taking initial steps to limit their reliance on rare earth materials or expand the existing supplier base.

Oil and Gas Management: Interior's Oil and Gas Production Verification Efforts Do Not Provide Reasonable Assurance of Accurate Measurement of Production Volumes
Released April 13, 2010. To verify that royalties are paid on the correct volumes of oil and gas, the Department of the Interior (DOI) verifies the quantity and quality of oil and gas, both onshore and offshore. This report assesses (1) the extent to which DOI’s production verification regulations and policies provide reasonable assurance in accuracy; (2) DOI’s production accountability inspection programs; and (3) DOI’s management of its production verification programs. GAO found the measurements regulations and policies do not provide reasonable assurance that oil and gas are accurately measured. The report recommends a centralized panel to develop guidelines and monitoring requirements for increased consistency.

Offshore Oil and Gas Development: Additional Guidance Would Help Strengthen the Minerals Management Service's Assessment of Environmental Impacts in the North Aleutian Basin
Released April 6, 2010. This report (1) describes estimated quantities of oil and gas and needed infrastructure for the North Aleutian Basin on the outer continental shelf (OCS) around Bristol Bay in Alaska; (2) identifies steps in Minerals Management Service (MMS) oversight; and (3) identifies challenges MMS faces. A prominent challenge for MMS are National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluations. MMS lacks a guidance handbook for completing these evaluations in this area. GAO also found that the Alaska OCS Region shares information selectively, inconsistent with agency policy to share information with all staff involved in environmental reviews.

Critical Infrastructure Protection: Update to National Infrastructure Protection Plan Includes Increased Emphasis on Risk Management and Resilience
Released April 4, 2010. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are thousands of facilities in the United States that if destroyed by a disaster could cause casualties, economic losses, or disruptions to national security. This report discusses (1) how the 2009 National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) changed compared to the 2006 NIPP and (2) how DHS and SSAs addressed resiliency as part of their planning efforts.

Army Corps of Engineers: Budget Formulation Process Emphasizes Agencywide Priorities, but Transparency of Budget Presentation Could Be Improved
Released April 2, 2010. In fiscal year 2006 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) began incorporating performance information into its budget process, but Congress raised concerns that the criteria used by the Corps to prioritize projects are not transparent and the budget formulation process could achieve a higher return on investment. GAO was asked to (1) describe the information the Corps uses in its budget process, and (2) evaluate whether the President's recent budget requests for the Corps are clear and transparent.

Vehicle Fuel Economy: NHTSA and EPA's Partnership for Setting Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards Improved Analysis and Should Be Maintained Released March 31, 2010.
In May 2009, the U.S. administration announced plans to increase the Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and establish the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for vehicles. GAO was asked to review (1) the design of NHTSA and EPA's proposed standards; (2) how they are collaborating to set these standards; (3) improvements NHTSA made to the modeling; and (4) the extent to which NHTSA analyzed the effects of past light truck standards and the accuracy of data used to set them.

***National Academy of Sciences (NAS)***

Review of the WATERS Network Science Plan
Prepublication released April 30, 2010. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has entertained the Water and Environmental Research Systems (WATERS) Network as one possible initiative to address proper management of our water resources and provide the advances in the basic science needed to do so. This book provides a more detailed review of the Science Plan and provides advice on collaborating with other federal agencies.

Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy
Prepublication released April 29, 2010. The success of any plan for improving educational outcomes depends on the teachers who carry it out, yet teacher preparation is often treated as an afterthought in discussions of improving the public education system. This book addresses the issue of teacher preparation because policy makers need reliable, outcomes-based information to make sound decisions, and teacher educators need to know how best to contribute to the development of effective teachers.

Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean
Prepublication released April 23, 2010. This report asserts that, unless man-made carbon dioxide emissions are substantially curbed or atmospheric carbon dioxide is controlled by some other means, the oceans will continue to become more acidic. Although the long-term consequences are unknown, a federal program under development is a positive move toward understanding and responding to the problem.

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 33. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register can be accessed at:

DOC—The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) will host a Federal Geospatial Summit May 11-12, 2010 to discuss the impact updating the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) will have on federal government agencies by replacing the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD 83), the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88), and other state and territorial island vertical datums. The proposed changes will affect the surveying, mapping, charting, and Geographic Information System (GIS) programs of federal government agencies, as well as those tribal, state, county, and municipal governments that have adopted the NSRS. The meeting will be held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Science Center and Auditorium in Silver Spring, Maryland. For additional information, and to attend, contact Christine Gallagher by phone: (301) 713-3231), or email:
[Friday, April 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 63)]

DOI—The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is reopening a comment period to solicit information to prepare Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for future industry geological and geophysical exploration on the Mid- and South Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). These activities are associated with Atlantic OCS siting for renewable energy projects, oil and gas exploration, and marine minerals extraction. Comments on the scope of the PEIS, identify significant resources and issues to be analyzed in the PEIS, and identify possible alternatives to the proposed action can be submitted until May 17, 2010 to For more information visit the MMS Atlantic OCS web site, or contact Gary Goeke by phone: (504) 736-3233.
[Friday, April 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 63)]

DOI—The Minerals Management Service (MMS), pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is providing notice of its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with respect to the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017 and requests comments on issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. Submit comments online to by June 30, 2010. For more information contact J.F. Bennett by phone: (703) 787-1660.
[Friday, April 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 63)]

DOI—The Minerals Management Service requests comments on the Preliminary Revised 5-Year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2007-2012 (PDF). The MMS encourages comments on the expanded environmental sensitivity analysis and the Secretary's revisions to the leasing schedule to reflect a balance between the discovery of petroleum with the potential for harm to the environment or coastal zone. Comments can be submitted at under Docket ID MMS-2009-OMM-
0016, or emailed to Submit comments and information to the MMS by May 3, 2010. For more information contact Renee Orr at: (703) 787-1215.
[Friday, April 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 63)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is soliciting comments on “Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations under the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act” and the “Environmental Justice Executive Order.” These memoranda seek to clarify EPA’s roles and expectations, in coordinating with its Federal and state partners, with regard to environmental review of Appalachian surface coal mining operations. Submit comments at under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0315, or by email: For additional information, visit the EPA Docket Center homepage or contact Timothy Landers at:
[Monday, April 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 69)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency is soliciting comments on two draft documents: “The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields” and “A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams.” The draft documents are available on National Center for Environmental Assessment's home page under Recent Additions and Publications at Submit comments by June 11, 2010 to under Docket ID EPA-HQ-ORD 2009-0934. For more information, contact the Office of Environmental Information at: (202) 566-1752 or email:
[Monday, April 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 69)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on mandatory reporting of greenhouse gases (GHGs) for injection and geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide. The proposed rulemaking does not require control of GHGs, rather only monitoring and reporting. Submit comments on the proposed rule by June 11, 2010 to under Docket ID EPA-HQ-ORD 2009-0926. For more information, contact the GHG Reporting Rule Hotline at:, or Barbora Master at: (202) 342-9899.
[Monday, April 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 69)]

NSF—The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Polar Programs will have a public meeting on May 20-21, 2010 at the NSF headquarters. Contact Sue LaFratta at: (202) 292-8030 for more information, or if you wish to attend.
[Monday, April 12, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 69)]

DOI—The Minerals Management Service announces a complete rewrite of oil and gas regulations for the outer continental shelf, addressing issues such as production rates, burning oil, and venting and flaring natural gas, to ensure appropriate development of these natural resources. This final rule eliminates most restrictions on production rates and clarifies limits on the amount of natural gas that can be flared or vented. The final rule is written using plain language, so it is easier to read and understand. This rule is effective May 19, 2010. For more information, contact Amy White at: (703) 787-1665.
[Monday, April 19, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 74)]

EPA—The Environmental Protection Agency is extending the public comment period on a draft assessment of the “Policy Assessment for the Review of the Secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Oxides of Nitrogen and Oxides of Sulfur: First External Review Draft.” The comment period will now end on May 13, 2010. Submit comments at under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-1145. For more information contact Bryan Hubbell at (919) 541-0621 or email:
[Tuesday, April 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 75)]

WH—The Executive Office of the President issued a memorandum on “A 21st Century Strategy for America’s Great Outdoors” to establish the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The initiative aims to: promote community-based recreation and conservation, advancing job and volunteer opportunities in conservation and outdoor recreation, supporting existing programs that educate and engage Americans in our history, culture, and natural bounty, and use science-based management practices to restore and protect the land and water.
[Tuesday, April 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 75)]

DOC—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces that upcoming Climate Program Office solicitations of grant proposals will be on its web site:
[Wednesday, April 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 81)]

ED—The Department of Education announces its intent to fund down the fiscal year (FY) 2009 grant slate for the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program to make new grant awards in FY 2010 because significant numbers of high-quality applicants still remain on last year’s grant slate. For more information, contact Karen Johnson at: (202) 502-7642 or email:
[Thursday, April 29, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 82)]

OSTP—The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will have a partially closed meeting on May 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. During the public portion of the meeting, PCAST is tentatively scheduled to hear presentations from the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on energy innovation and biodiversity. Additional information, and to register to attend, is online at: [Thursday, April 29, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 82)]

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 33. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

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Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program.

Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academies Press, American Institute of Physics, Government Accountability Office, Open CRS, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and the White House, and Department of the Interior.

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 geosciences community that it serves. More information on these topcs can be found on the Government Affairs Program Current Issues pages. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Compiled May 7, 2010; Updated June 23, 2010.


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