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Monthly Review: September 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 Unveils Plan to Extend and Expand R&E Tax Credits
  2. President Obama Announces New Education Initiative
  3. OSTP Adds Fourth Associate Director
  4. Oil Spill Update

***Congressional News and Updates***

  1. Senate Confirms NSF Director
  2. Appropriations Update
  3. House and Senate Committees Discuss Rare Earth Element Bills
  4. Congress Passes NASA Reauthorization Bill

***Federal Agency News and Updates***

  1. Multi-Agency Report Finds No Spill-Related Dead Zones in Gulf
  2. EPA Requests that Companies Disclose Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids
  3. DOI Releases Scientific Integrity Plan
  4. Report Calls for More Federal Research to Predict and Prevent Hypoxia
  5. USDA Report: Agriculture Can Reduce GHG Emissions
  6. DOE Office of Legacy Management Releases Strategic Plan
  7. NSF’s Science Board Releases Education Report
  8. NAS Releases New Report on Science and Technology Competitiveness

***Other News and Updates***

  1. BP Releases Report on Causes of Gulf Spill
  2. Open Access to Climate Codes
  3. The Profitability of Teaching Faculty
  4. AGI Holds Water Resources Forum in Washington DC
  5. Geoscientists Visit the Hill in September
  6. AGI welcomes Fall Intern for Government Affairs Program
  7. Key Reports and Publications
  8. Key Federal Register Notices
  9. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

 1. Obama Unveils Plan to Extend and Expand R&E Tax Credits

Responding to slow job growth throughout the summer months, President Obama recently unveiled a plan to increase and permanently extend the Research and Experimentation (R&E) tax credit. The tax credit is applicable to R&E performed in the U.S., and would be expanded by about 20%, to a total of $100 billion over the next 10 years. The President would simplify the application for the credit, increasing to 17% the amount of investment that can be refunded through the simpler of two formulas. This measure is part of a broader goal to increase U.S. Research and Development (R&D) to 3% of total gross domestic product (GDP), and increase U.S. competitiveness with countries offering more generous tax incentives for research. The credit was initially authorized in 1981 and has been extended repeatedly by Congress. The last extension expired in December, however, and Congress has yet to extend the credit this year. The tax credit would reportedly be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes of about $300 billion in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget.

See a White House factsheet on the tax credit extension here

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 2. President Obama Announces New Education Initiative

On September 16, President Obama announced a new education initiative, called Change the Equation (CTEq).  This effort, part of a larger initiative to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, recruits top companies to devise programs that will foster science interest, learning, and diversity.  The initiative aims to deepen the commitment to STEM education from business, the government, and teachers.  So far, over 100 companies have joined, including Kodak, Xerox, Time Warner Cable, and Intel. 

Following CTEq criteria, the companies will establish a baseline of their current investments in STEM programs and then follow a self-evaluation mechanism to gauge their improvements.  CTEq will provide state-by-state report cards assessing STEM education.  This program is part of the Educate to Innovate program, started by President Obama in November of 2009 and has been funded through grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Gates Foundation.

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 3. OSTP Adds Fourth Associate Director

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) now has a full complement of four associate directors, with the confirmation of Dr. Carl Wieman. The Senate confirmed his appointment on September 16. Carl Wieman is a physicist and recipient of a Nobel Prize in physics. Wieman will be the Associate Director of Science and he joins Phil Coyle, Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Shere Abbott, Associate Director for the Environment and Aneesh Chopra, Associate Director for Technology. Congress authorized four associate directors for OSTP, but President George H.W. Bush chose to nominate and have only two associate directors during his administration.

More information about the associate directors is available from an OSTP brief.

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 4. Oil Spill Update

***National Commission Investigations of Oil Spill Continue
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling held a public meeting in Washington DC on September 27-28 and interviewed government officials, scientists, Gulf coast community officials and a BP executive. National Incident commander Thad Allen called for a third party to be put in charge of any future oil spills and suggested the response should involve more local people. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the use of chemical dispersants as a risk management decision and called for more study of their use and environmental impact. Other scientists interviewed by the commission expressed concern about the long-term impacts of dispersants and called for more research. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists noted the errors in the early estimates of spilled oil and indicated that some of the problems were caused by a lack of data. A recent paper in Science has estimated the amount of oil spilled from videos and their estimated total is the same (within uncertainties) as the government’s final estimate of 4.9 million barrels.

Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, and Michael Bromwich, Director of Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement discussed current offshore drilling plans, the Gulf moratorium and reforms of the offshore drilling program. David Hayes, Interior Deputy Secretary, discussed science related to offshore drilling and response, especially research in the Arctic. He noted that the U.S. Geological Survey has been asked to conduct a special analysis of the Arctic environment.

The Interior Department has withdrawn offshore oil leases in the Arctic until more information is available about the science, the conditions, and the abilities of the government and industry to respond to any problems. Bromwich also noted that even after the Gulf moratorium is lifted, there will be additional technical requirements placed on industry that will likely delay any offshore drilling. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) appeared before the commission and requested an end to the moratorium. Landrieu also called for more support for restoration of wetlands in the Gulf.

The commission interviewed BP Executive Doug Suttles and criticized the BP report on the causes of the oil spill and suggested that the company was woefully unprepared to deal with the catastrophe.

A video archive of the two-day meeting is available from C-SPAN.

***Gulf Spill Research
BP has committed $500 million for research on the impacts of the Gulf oil spill on the environment. About $40 million was distributed to researchers. After some initial delays, it appears likely that the rest, $460 million, will go to a Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a consortium of state officials, to distribute the funds to research groups within the Gulf.

Research funds for understanding the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf will also be available through the government’s natural resource damage assessment program and through federal agencies that have provided support for basic research in these areas in the past.

***Administration Releases Long Term Recovery Plan for Gulf
The Administration released a recovery plan for the Gulf of Mexico calling for Clean Water Act penalties and other oil spill liability funds to be used in the Gulf region rather than being paid into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The plan calls for the elimination of a liability cap for offshore oil drilling damages. The plan also calls for a Gulf Coast Recovery Council to administer the restoration funds. Congress would need to enact legislation to fulfill these plans. On September 28, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating a Gulf Coast Ecosystems Restoration Task Force. The task force will be chaired by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson. If Congress creates a council, it will replace this task force.

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 5. Senate Confirms NSF Director

The National Science Foundation has a new director, Dr. Subra Suresh. The Senate confirmed his six-year appointment on September 29, 2010. Suresh has been the Dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research focused on understanding the properties of engineered and biological materials, especially at submicroscopic scales. Suresh has a Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, a Masters from Iowa State University and a Doctor of Science from MIT. Suresh is replacing Dr. Arden Bement, who served as NSF’s Director for six years and now leads the Global Policy Research Institute at Purdue University.

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 6. Update on Appropriations

Congress was unable to complete appropriations before the start of the new federal fiscal year (FY 2011) on October 1, 2010. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution (CR)  using the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 3081) on September 30, 2010. The CR keeps the government running at last year’s (FY 2010) budget levels until at least December 3, 2010. The bill did include $624 million in new funds for the National Nuclear Security Administration for work related to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). 

The only other specific language of interest to the geosciences community is an allotment of  $23 million for the Department of the Interior to increase oil rig inspections with funds coming from an offset of unobligated funds rather than an increase in the budget. Senate amendments to enact a 5 percent rescission across all programs, extend the CR until February, 2011 or to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency from using any funds to implement stricter water standards in Florida were all rejected.

In the House, only two appropriation bills, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development have been passed by the full House and are ready for possible conferencing with the Senate. The other nine bills have been passed by their respective subcommittees, but have not been considered by the full committee.

In the Senate, nine out of 12 bills have been passed by the full Appropriations Committee and are awaiting a vote by the full Senate. Three bills, Defense, Interior & Environment, and Legislative Branch have not been approved by the full committee yet and no funding levels are available for these three measures. The Defense and Interior bills became embroiled in controversies that are not directly related to appropriations.

The Senate energy appropriations measure (S.3635) would provide $5.012 billion for the Office of Science where most basic research by the agency is conducted, $2.288 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy – all within the Department of Energy. The Senate committee supports slightly more spending for these programs than the House subcommittee and both are about $1 billion less than the President’s request.

The Senate science appropriations measure (S.3636) would provide about $5.5 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $5.006 billion for science ($1.802 billion for Earth science) within NASA and $7.353 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). All of these sums represent increases for these programs and are similar to the President’s request and House subcommittee levels, with the exception of less funding for education at NSF in the Senate appropriations.

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 7. House and Senate Committees Discuss Rare Earth Element Bills

Two bills encouraging the exploration, mining and processing of rare earth elements (REE) are being considered in the House and Senate. The House bill, the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010 (H.R. 6160), was introduced, amended and passed by the Science and Technology Committee within a 10 day period. It was then passed rapidly under suspension of the rules by the full House on September 29. See the markup summary for details on the amended bill. The measure creates an unfunded mandate for the establishment of a rare earth (RE) materials program and broadens a loan guarantee program for improved RE technologies. These programs would be administered by the Department of Energy (DOE).

The Senate bill, The Rare Earths Supply Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2010 (S.3521) or RESTART Act, was discussed in a hearing by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on September 30. Like the House bill, the Senate bill includes no authorizations of any funding for REE work. Rather, it establishes a Rare Earth Policy Task Force in the Department of the Interior, and it directs the Secretary of Energy to describe and facilitate the extension of loan guarantee programs to industry stakeholders.

For a summary of the markup and hearing from AGI visit our hearings web page. For more information on the Senate hearing, see the committee’s web site.

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 8. Congress Passes NASA Reauthorization Bill

Before Congress left for a long break to focus on the upcoming November elections, they passed a NASA reauthorization bill that provides authorized funding for three years and sets out policy for the future of human spaceflight. President Obama received the legislation for his signature on September 30.

The measure would authorize $19 billion for NASA in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and the total authorization increases to $19.96 billion in FY 2013. Science would be authorized at $5.006 billion (with $1.802 billion for Earth Science) in FY 2011 and the authorization would increase to $5.510 billion (with $2.09 billion for Earth Science) in FY 2013.

The legislation focuses primarily on NASA’s human spaceflight program and next steps as the space shuttle is retired. As requested by President Obama, the bill terminates the Constellation program, which includes the Orion crew capsule and Ares rocket series, part of the next generation astronaut transport system that NASA has already spent billions of dollars to develop. It eliminates development of a human spaceflight to Mars, but authorizes as much as $11 billion to reach an asteroid within 10 years. It calls for an additional Space Shuttle launch and authorizes $1.6 billion for commercial companies to begin building rockets capable of sending crews to the International Space Station.

The House Committee on Science and Technology passed their version of the measure, H.R. 5781, in July.  In August, the Senate passed their version, S. 3729.  There were some sharp differences between the two measures, which are not surprising given the challenges that NASA faces in considering the future of U.S. space exploration.
On September 23, the House Science and Technology Committee introduced new compromise language, increasing the scope of the House version regarding human spaceflight. Members of the committee warned that the additional shuttle launch is an unfunded mandate and will likely cannibalize funds from science programs, believe the Senate language is overly prescriptive regarding the design of future rockets, called for reductions of funding for commercial companies, raised concerns about depending on commercial companies for future spaceflight, and decried a 30 percent decrease in funding for education.

In a news story on October 1, suggested the Senate bill favors the civilian solid rocket motor industry because the prescriptions of the measure may only be attainable using solid rocket motors. The reporters quote Senator Orin Hatch from Utah as noting that this bill may help preserve the solid rocket motor industry in northern Utah. This and other components of the measure are likely meant to preserve NASA centers, the aerospace industry and ultimately jobs in various states and districts. It helps to explain why Representative Gabrielle Giffords, chair of the House space and aeronautics subcommittee, opposed the bill, noting that it would “force NASA to build a rocket designed by congress and not by NASA engineers.”

The House Science and Technology Committee did not have time to work out an official compromise with the Senate, so they approved the Senate version while strongly recommending their compromise language to appropriators. The House passed S. 3729 on September 29 and this is the bill that President Obama is expected to sign soon.

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 9. Multi-Agency Report Finds No Spill-Related Dead Zones in Gulf

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) released a joint report looking at dissolved oxygen levels in areas where federal and independent scientists had previously reported the presence of subsurface oil from the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill. The report found that in areas where subsurface oil had been reported, oxygen levels have dropped by 20 percent from their long-term average, but these levels are not low enough to characterize the areas as “dead zones.” Dead zones are areas where dissolved oxygen concentrations fall below 2 mg/L, low enough that most life forms are impacted. These zones are commonly found in the near shore waters of the western and northern gulf in summer, but do not normally occur in deep water like where the study was performed.  Scientists believe that the observed low oxygen levels at depths around the underwater oil plumes are due to microbes that are using oxygen to consume the oil from the BP spill.

The findings of the report are consistent with findings of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists, who also did not find dead zones where subsurface oil was found.

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 10. EPA Requests that Companies Disclose Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested that nine oil and gas drilling companies provide the EPA with a list of the chemical additives used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, as well as locations where fracturing has been used.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracing,” is a drilling technique used in natural gas extraction. Water and chemical additives are forced into wells, physically breaking the rock to allow for gas to flow to the wellbore. These fractures are held open by “proppants” like sand or silicates that are also added to the fracturing fluids. Hydraulic fracturing is most commonly used in coal beds and oil shale formations. The EPA does not normally regulate the injection of hydrofracing fluids, but is in the process of conducting a multiyear, $1.9 billion, congressionally mandated study to examine the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. The information disclosed by oil and gas companies as a result of the September 9th request will help inform that study. In an effort to demonstrate that the technique is safe, the contacted companies are likely to provide the requested information. “(If asked) we will of course fully cooperate with their request” said a Halliburton spokeswoman.

More information is available on EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing web page.

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 11. DOI Releases Scientific Integrity Plan

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a Secretarial Order on September 29, 2010 that establishes a policy to ensure scientific integrity in the work and the use of that work within the Department of the Interior. Before the order, only the U.S. Geological Survey had a scientific integrity policy among all the bureaus. A draft of the policy was released for public comment on August 31 and the policy was updated based on many comments. The most significant criticism of the draft was that it failed to cover all DOI employees, in particular political appointees. The revised secretarial order covers all employees as well as contractors, cooperators, partners, volunteers and permittees who are involved in scientific activities.

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 12. Report Calls for More Federal Research to Predict and Prevent Hypoxia

A report from the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) was released in September of 2010, detailing the federal government’s response to hypoxia in major U.S. water bodies. The report, Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters, was released by the Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health. It identifies the scale and effects of hypoxia in the U.S. and outlines the legislative action to date, as well as the current federal research addressing the hypoxia issue. Among other things, the report calls for expanded monitoring of dissolved oxygen in vulnerable waters, the development and increased use of predictive hypoxia models, and the monitoring and source-identification of nutrient loads in streams.

The report makes clear that hypoxia is a large and growing problem, contributing to fish kills and ecological degradation that have large economic costs. Despite established point source regulation and increased concern for soil and water conservation practices, hypoxia incidence has increased 30-fold in U.S. waters since 1960. In response, the federal government has attempted to decrease nutrient pollution and hypoxia with several pieces of legislation. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998, and the Coastal Zone Management Act address hypoxia directly, while portions of the Clean Water Act and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 authorize regulation of activities that influence hypoxia-inducing conditions.

As hypoxia sustains further fish kills and compromises coastal and lacustrine ecosystems, the Interagency Working Group has recognized a need to tackle the issue with new research and adaptive management. In particular, the progress to date calls for the use of adaptive management as a means of addressing uncertainty in future hypoxia trends, and for more basic research on the watershed scale impacts and causes of hypoxia.

This report complements a review from the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology entitled Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States in the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy.

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 13. USDA Report: Agriculture Can Reduce GHG Emissions

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a report, The Role of Agriculture in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which reviews the contributions that agriculture can make to climate change mitigation within, and in addition, to the preexisting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) framework. The report concludes that well-known management strategies – namely conservation tillage, reduction of nitrogen fertilizer use, changing livestock management, and planting trees and grasses – can increase carbon sequestration and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from most farms. Actions taken under the CRP, that is planting trees and grasses, would be profitable for many farms under cap and trade legislation, according to the report. The USDA estimates that farmers would require compensation of $7 to $32 per ton of CO2 for planting trees and $29 to $82 per acre for planting grasses. These price ranges intersect those of proposed cap and trade legislation, as estimated by the EPA. The report indicates that actions taken under Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) could be candidates for offset credits as well, provided there is no double counting under the programs.

The USGS plays a role in measuring soil-carbon storage and the affects of agriculture and forestry management on carbon sequestration. Soils are, according to the USGS, “the most stable long-term surface reservoir for carbon,” and the agency is committed to mapping carbon across the U.S., calculating carbon storage, and identifying areas with the greatest potential for carbon sequestration. Read about the National Soil Carbon Network, in which the USGS participates. The network is presenting its database at the Fall AGU meeting this December.

This report is the second in a series released by the USDA, regarding climate change and agriculture. The first report, entitled Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets, EB-14, is available here.

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 14. DOE Office of Legacy Management Releases Strategic Plan

The Department of Energy released a draft of its Office of Legacy Management’s Strategic Plan for the 2010-2020, and is accepting comments on the plan through November 30. The Office of Legacy Management (LM) is responsible for the long-term surveillance and maintenance (LTS&M) of 87 publicly and privately owned nuclear contamination sites. Looking towards cost-effective and sustainable management of these sites, LM expresses its goals of (1) enhancing reclamation and reuse of managed lands, (2) improving domestic uranium mining and cleanup through a center for sharing information, and (3) establishing national standards for reclamation through collaboration with affected organizations. In the report, LM requests the authority to use royalties and funds from sale of lands to support reclamation projects. It also proposes that LM managed land be used for renewable energy projects. For a copy of the report, and information regarding LM, please see the LM web site.

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 15. NSF’s Science Board Releases Education Report

A new report, “Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital,” has been released by the National Science Board.  The report addresses the dearth of qualified science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals and educators.  During World War II and the Cold War, the U.S. made great strides in the development of new technologies and strongly emphasized STEM education.  However, by the 1970s, as détente became accepted, funding was diverted elsewhere and enthusiasm for STEM educatioal pursuits decreased.  The National Science Board seeks to reverse this trend and has spent the last two years preparing this report.

“Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators” has three “keystone recommendations,” which are further broken into multiple “policy actions” and a research agenda.  First, we must “provide opportunities for excellence,” offering a variety of interventions to allow students to develop their skills in these fields and foster intellectual curiosity.  Next, we should “cast a wide net,” identifying a wide variety of talents throughout the spectrum of socio-economic and racial diversity and teaching educators to recognize students’ potential.  Finally, we shall “foster a supportive ecosystem,” rewarding excellence and creativity in students throughout the U.S.

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 16. NAS Releases New Report on Science and Technology Competitiveness

The National Academies have released a new report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5,” authored by the same committee that wrote the original report in 2007.  The report finds that US competitiveness in math and science is continuing to decline relative to global efforts.  The original Gathering Storm report was influential in the writing and passage of the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which has benefitted research as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.  Basic research also received one-time stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Unfortunately, many provisions of America COMPETES remain unfunded, and the Act is now up for revision and reauthorization by Congress.  The report recommends that Congress double the federal budget for basic research and work to strengthen K-12 STEM education.  An interesting fact mentioned in the report: “All the National Academies Gathering Storm committee’s recommendations could have been fully implemented with the sum America spends on cigarettes each year—with $60 billion left over.”

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 17. BP Releases Report on Causes of Gulf Spill

BP has released a report from an internal incident investigation team on the cause of the Gulf spill. The report found that decisions made by "multiple companies and work teams contributed to the accident.” The accident involved a well integrity failure, followed by a loss of hydrostatic control of the well, and a failure to control the flow from the well with the blow-out preventer.

The report summarized eight key elements that contributed to the catastrophe. First, there were weaknesses in the cement design, testing, quality assurance, and risk assessment.  The cement that was pumped down the production casing and up into the wellbore likely experienced a nitrogen breakout, which allowed hydrocarbons to enter the wellbore. Second, the “shoe track barrier” did not stop the movement of hydrocarbons in the well. The shoe track is installed at the bottom of the production casing, and consists of both cement and a float collar that prevent fluid movement into the production casing. Neither of these barriers prevented the movement of hydrocarbons following the initial cement failure. Third, the negative-pressure test to confirm well integrity was not properly interpreted. The test was conducted, and pressure readings indicated that the barriers were not intact, but the rig crew and BP well site leaders reached the “incorrect view that the test was successful and that well integrity had been established.”

Fourth, the influx of hydrocarbons was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser. Because of the accepted negative-pressure test, hydrocarbons were allowed to flow through the production casing and past the blow-out preventer, to the riser on the surface. Fifth, the rig crew failed to regain control of the well and divert fluids overboard rather than into the mud gas separator system. Sixth, because hydrocarbons were diverted to the mud gas separator, the separator system was overwhelmed and gas was able to vent onto the rig. Seventh, the fire system on the drill rig did not prevent ignition of the escaping hydrocarbons. The heating and air conditioning systems probably transferred the gas-rich air to the engine rooms, creating a source of ignition for an explosion. Eighth, the blow out preventer’s three emergency modes did not seal the well as intended. The first system was likely disabled by the explosion and fire on the rig. The second system, which depended on control pods on the blow out preventer, failed because of a faulty valve in one pod and insufficient battery life in the other. The third system failed because the blind shear ram failed to seal the well. The indicators for these potential weaknesses were apparent in audit findings and maintenance records performed before the accident according to the BP report.

The report stressed that several factors contributed to the accident including mechanical failure, human judgment, engineering design, operational implementation, and team interfaces over time; no single team or action caused the accident. The full report can be found on the BP website, along with a detailed video that illustrates the investigation team’s findings.

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 18. Open Access to Climate Codes

Two British software engineers, David Jones and Nick Barnes, and a British administrator for the British National Park Authority, Philippa Davey, have founded a new non-profit organization called the Climate Code Foundation in August of 2010. The foundation hopes to promote the public understanding of climate science, improve the clarity of source code for climate science software and encourage the publication of more source code in climate science, according to their website description.

There are two projects associated with the foundation, the Clear Climate Code to provide clarity of computer codes and the Open Climate Code to encourage access to source codes. So far the Open Climate Code page only lists the founders’ ideas, while the Clear Climate Code offers a “simplified” version of the GISTEMP analysis software used by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

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 19. The Profitability of Teaching Faculty

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a report obtained from Texas A&M University (TAMU) on a professor-by-professor account of funds earned and spent at the University. The report found that most professors were profitable – that is, they brought in more money to the university than they were paid. The calculation for each professor included as revenue, tuition funds from students enrolled per class and state funds supporting the school, and as costs, professors’ salaries and benefits. Somewhat controversially, the calculation excluded external grants acquired by the professors. Under this formula, the Geosciences College was found to be profitable by a margin of $1,280,418 and with grants and awards total of $10,812,910. Two other colleges at TAMU, Engineering and the Bush School of Government and Public Service, were found to accrue a net cost to the university. The report raises questions about how professors are being evaluated amid a budget crisis.

TAMU performed the report for their own purposes but then passed on the document to The Chronicle after an open-records request. For a PDF of the report and the original article from The Chronicle click here.

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 20. AGI Holds Water Resources Forum in Washington DC

The American Geological Institute (AGI) hosted their annual Leadership Forum on September 20.  This year’s forum focused on water, with sessions on the oceans, water quality, and water quantity.  Speakers from several federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discussed water resources programs under their jurisdiction and how the programs work with state and local communities. 

Geoscientists presented some talks and held a series of breakout discussion groups to discuss U.S. water resources policies and how the geosciences community can help sustain water resources for all. The participants formulated recommendations on water resources that will enhance previous work described in AGI’s “Critical Needs for the 21st Century: The Role of the Geosciences”.

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 21. Geoscientists Visit the Hill in September

The American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the Geological Society of America (GSA), and the Seismological Society of America (SSA) hosted the Third Annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day September 21-22.  Fifty participants from twenty-four states gathered on the 21st to learn about the appropriations process and current legislation affecting the geosciences, and how to conduct a successful congressional visit.  The next day, they met with their congressional delegations and committee staff to discuss the importance of the geosciences in the 21st century and to request support of geosciences research through the federal science agencies.

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 22. AGI Welcomes Fall Intern for Government Affairs Program

The Government Affairs Program welcomes Matt Ampleman, the fall geosciences policy intern at AGI. Matt graduated from Washington University (St. Louis) in May, receiving his B.A. in Earth and Planetary Sciences with a minor in legal studies. As an undergraduate, Matt studied carbon sequestration in restored tallgrass prairies for his senior thesis, looking closely at the link between plant diversity and productivity. He has also researched greenhouse gas exchange in turf grass lawns for a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), and has served as a student consultant, specializing in hydrology, for the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University. He is interested in carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems, federal water policy, and biofuels.

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 30. Key Reports and Publications

*** The National Academy of Sciences Publications***
Precise Geodetic Infrastructure: National Requirements for a Shared Resource
Released September 1, 2010. Report provides an independent assessment of the benefits provided by geodetic observations and networks. Geodesy is the science of measuring the geometric shape of earth, its orientation in space, its gravity field, and how these properties change over time. A wide range of scientific and societal endeavors now require precise geodesy, and geodetic infrastructure is a shared national resource. The report also lays out a plan for the future development of geodetic networks in support of increasing demand for precise geodetic data. The report recommends that the US invest in maintaining and improving the geodetic infrastructure through upgrades in network design and construction, modernization of current observing systems, deployment of improved multi-technique observing capabilities, and funding opportunities for research, analysis, and education in global geodesy. Further recommendations on how to specifically achieve these goals are provided.

Pathways to Urban Sustainability
Released September 17, 2010. As urbanization increases during the next century, it is important that it become more sustainable. The National Research Council organized a workshop to explore this issue, and this book is the product of that workshop. It treats urban areas as systems, an approach that is frequently overlooked, and it features input from universities, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, state and local agencies, and international organizations, across a wide range of disciplines.

Describing Socioeconomic Futures for Climate Change Research and Assessment: Report of a Workshop
Prepublication released September 17, 2010. Technology, economics, lifestyle, and policy all affect the rate and magnitude of climate change, as well as the potential for adaptation and mitigation. This report reviews the science of climate change and attempts to provide standardized definitions to encourage communication between a variety of stakeholders. It also addresses the current state of quantitative analysis of climate change variables, which has improved dramatically over the last few years. 

Tsunami Warning and Preparedness: An Assessment of the U.S. Tsunami Program and the Nation’s Preparedness Efforts
September 20, 2010. Discusses recent efforts by the U.S. government to promote tsunami awareness and increase early warning capabilities. However, many challenges still remain.  According to the report, minimize losses in the future will require  a great deal of cooperation between both Tsunami Warning Centers and state and local agencies, in addition to improved forecasting and communications strategies.  The authors suggest a variety of improvements to tsunami warning and preparedness.

Rising above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5
Released September 23, 2010. This report, released by the National Academies, is an update on the original Gathering Storm Report, released in 2007.  Education and funding for science research continues to become more critical as the U.S. strives to remain competitive in the global economy, and American students continue to fall behind their peers in math and science achievements internationally.  Many of the original report’s suggestions were adopted in the 2007 America COMPETES Act, but remained unfunded until the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  As the funding from that Act expires, it is imperative that the U.S. renew its focus and provide support.

Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop
Released September 23, 2010. The Gulf Oil Spill continues to pose a threat to human health. The long-term effects of the dispersants, oil fumes, and other chemical exposures related to the cleanup are not all well-known, and the Institute of Medicine is concerned about the impact on the overall health of those living and working around the Gulf of Mexico. This book identifies populations at increased risk and proposes strategies for monitoring and addressing both short- and long-term health effects.

Missouri River Planning: Recognizing and Incorporating Sediment Management
Prepublication released September 28, 2010. Missouri River Planning provides a history of the flow and sediment transport of the Missouri River. In recent times, dams and other structures to control water flow have been introduced, dramatically reducing sediment transport and changing patterns of erosion and deposition. This has had negative ecological impacts on some local species and the landscape, and has strongly impacted the wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta. This book explains how better understanding of these hydrological processes can help improve river management objectives while lessening the impact on native species.

A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States
Released in September. Data collected in 2005-2006 from more than 5,000 doctoral programs at 212 universities is synthesized in reports and tables to help assess their quality and effectiveness.

*** Government Accountability Office Reports***

University Research: Policies for the Reimbursement of Indirect Costs Need to Be Updated
Released September 8, 2010. Both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) negotiate indirect cost rates used to reimburse higher education institutions for indirect costs on federally funded research awards. The report examines the variation in proposed and negotiated indirect cost rates between the two federal agencies and higher education institutions seeking reimbursement for costs of research. The report also examined how the administrative caps limit reimbursement of indirect costs, as well as the methods that the DOD uses for overseeing compliance with indirect cost reimbursement for grants.

Hydropower Relicensing: Stakeholders’ Views on the Energy Policy Act Varied, but More Consistent Information Needed
Released September 10, 2010. Non-federal hydropower projects need to be relicensed every fifty years in order to continue operating. License conditions include the protection of federal lands and prescriptions to assist fish passage through projects. Under section 241 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, these nonfederal hydropower projects may request a “trial-type hearing” on any disputed issue relating to these conditions, or may propose an alternative prescription to the condition. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to determine to what extent stakeholders have used section 241, and to describe stakeholders views on the impact of section 241 on the relicensing process. The report found that nonfederal stakeholders used section 241 for 25 out of 103 eligible hydropower projects. The federal government accepted no alternatives as originally proposed, but instead modified prescriptions or rejected alternatives. Agency officials raised concerns about the increased workload and costs as a result of section 241.

Perchlorate: Occurrence is Widespread but at Varying Levels; Federal Agencies Have Taken Some Actions To Respond to and Lessen Releases
Released September 13, 2010. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has analysed data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) on perchlorate contamination in the environment. Perchlorate is found in water and the food supply across the country, and in 31 of 160 sites tested exceeds the EPA’s interim health advisory level. Many of the federal agencies involved, as well as states, are now engaging in clean-up processes. Much of the perchlorate found in the environment is the result of past disposal practices for products like rockets and fireworks. The report contains no recommendations.

Nuclear Waste: Actions Need to Address Persistent Concerns with Efforts to Close Underground Radioactive Waste Tanks at DOE’s Savannah River Site
Released September 14, 2010. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina contains 37 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste in 49 underground storage containers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has assessed the DOE’s $3.2 billion cleanup contract for 22 of these tanks with Savannah River Remediation, LLC, the cost of which has since increased by 44%. The GAO recommends that the DOE revise contract management guidance, develop guidance for DOE contracts officers, and direct the contractor to revise its construction schedule to conform to DOE’s schedule development guidance and best practices.

Global Positioning System: Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading Capabilities Persist
Released September 20, 2010. The U.S. Air Force is in the process of updating their Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) data worldwide. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last year that it was unsure if the Air Force would be able to acquire the necessary new satellites in time to prevent service interruption. Early launches were delayed, and the system is also extremely expensive. The GAO previously recommended that the Department of Defense (DOD) must establish an overarching authority responsible for coordinating the project. The GAO continues to urge that they do so, as well as provide an explanation of terms, documentation, process steps, and funding committees.

Carbon Trading: Current Situation and Oversight Considerations for Policymakers, August 19, 2010
Released September 20, 2010. This letter responds to a congressional request for information about potential carbon trading schemes. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has provided information on current carbon-trading schemes and products in the U.S., the risks and challenges of these practices, any regulation of this trading, and issues identified for policymaker consideration regarding a national cap-and-trade carbon market. The GAO recommends that the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission must ensure that the interagency working group created under the Dodd-Frank Act addresses these issues.

2010 Resubmission of the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Cooperation agreement: Further Actions Needed by State and Other Agencies to Improve the Review of the Classified Nuclear Proliferation Assessment
Released September 21, 2010. On May 10, 2010, President Obama resubmitted the proposed Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation for Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy to Congress. This agreement would provide for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to partner with Russian agencies on large-scale development of nuclear energy. The U.S. already has 25 similar agreements in force with other countries and international agencies, and the Agreement was previously submitted by President Bush in 2008. However, the Department of Defense (DOD) feels that inadequate time has been allowed for stakeholders to review supporting documentation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that the Secretaries of State, the Interior, and Defense, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Director of National Intelligence should ensure adequate time for all parties to consult prior to the Agreement’s resubmission to Congress. They should also takes steps to develop the written procedures governing such agreements, identifying the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders and ensuring consideration of any conflicting views.

Disaster Response: Criteria for Developing and Validating Effective Response Plans, September 22, 2010
Released September 22, 2010. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for disaster response planning, and, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is attempting to improve disaster response planning and training. This testimony addresses criteria for effective disaster response planning under FEMA’s National Response Framework (NRF) and other guidance, the status of such planning, and special planning for oil spills. It did not assess the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that FEMA had completed some plans, but others were yet undeveloped, and that FEMA lacks a coordinated approach. As other agencies also have roles to play in disaster relief, it is important to clearly lay out roles and responsibilities. GAO does not make any recommendations in this testimony but has previously made recommendations to FEMA. FEMA agrees that they must strengthen disaster response planning and is working to address the GAO’s recommendations.

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 31. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register can be accessed at:

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency announces a Federal Implementation plan to ensure authority to issue permits under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program to Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  Comments are due by October 4, 2010, at, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0107. Contact Ms. Lisa Sutton, EPA, at (919) 541-3450, with questions.
[Thursday, September 2, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 170)]

OSTP- The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has released the Objectives, Proposed Topics, and Next Steps of its National Climate Assessment (NCA). The full report, to be completed by June 2013, will analyze the effect of global change on the US and project major trends for the next 25-100 years. The USGCRP is requesting scientific input for the next NCA report. The report can be found on the USGCRP website.
[Tuesday, September 7, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 172)]

USGS- The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a proposed Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Sighting Reporting Form, to allow members of the public to report invasive species. Comments are due by October 8, 2010, at and to Phadrea Ponds, USGS. For further information, please contact Pam Fuller, (352) 264-3481. [Wednesday, September 8, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 173)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will meet to review the Secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards for NOX and SOX Second External Review Draft. The public meeting will be on October 6 and 7 in Durham, North Carolina. For more information, see the EPA website. To attend, contact Dr. Angela Nugent. [Thursday, September 9, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 174)]

NSF- The National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Geosciences will be meeting in order to provide advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning support for environmental research and education. The meetings will be held on October 6th and 7th in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, or to attend, contact Melissa Lane at 703-292-8500. [Friday, September 10, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 175)]

USGS- The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is conducting a survey in order to gather information concerning methods used in ecosystem services projects and characteristics of projects that have successfully implemented ecosystem services concepts. More information can be found on the full register notice. Comments on the tactics to be used in the survey can be submitted to Phadrea Ponds.
[Monday, September 13, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 176)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is soliciting proposals for competitive funding for Regional Ocean Partnerships that include or emphasize regional Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning efforts. The goal of the competition is to advance the national ocean policy agenda as established by the 2010 Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force. Entries must be submitted before December 10, 2010. For further information, see the funding announcement on the NOAA website.
[Monday, September 13, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 176)]

NOAA/FAA- The Federal Aviation Administration’s Aviation Weather Group is meeting in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in order to discuss the establishment of operational requirements for the reporting and forecasting of volcanic eruptions and the associated ash cloud. Ash clouds can be a hazard to aircraft and airport operations, and there is a need for more information to support operational decisions. The meeting will be held on November 5th in Washington DC. The deadline for meeting registration is October 31. For further information, contact Stephen Albersheim.
[Tuesday, September 14, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 177)]

NRC- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be tentatively holding a briefing on October 14th in Washington, DC regarding alternative risk matrices for new light water reactors. To attend, contact CJ Fong at 301-415-6249 or watch online at the NRC website.
[Tuesday, September 14, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 177)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act Advisory Committee will meet on October 6, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, or in order to attend, contact Pat Childers at (202)564-1082.
[Thursday, September 16, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 179)]

DOE- The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is holding a series of meetings on an offshore wind industry for the U.S. Public comments are due by October 29, 2010, to For further information, contact Dr. Chris Hart.
[Monday, September 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 181)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces a new policy: traditional horizontal survey projects performed with terrestrial survey techniques will no longer be accepted for processing or loading into National Geodetics Survey (NGS) databases. For further information, contact Mr. Mark Eckl, the Observation and Analysis Division Chief at NGS.
[Monday, September 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 181)]

NSF- The National Science Foundation will host a Proposal Review Panel for Physics on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Contact Dr. Kathleen McCloud, Program Director for Physics Education and Disciplinary Research at the NSF, (703) 292-8236.
[Monday, September 20, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 181)]

DOE/NSF- The Department of Energy and National Science Foundation’s High Energy Physics Advisory Panel will meet Thursday, November 18, 2010, in Washington, D.C. Call John Kogut, Executive Secretary for the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, DOE, at (301) 903-1298.
[Tuesday, September 21, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 182)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency requests public comments on the Draft Chesapeake Bay TMDL for nutrients and sediment, pursuant to the Clean Water Act. Comments must be submitted by November 8, 2010. Submit comments online, via Docket ID No. EPA-R03-OW-2010-0736, or contact Jennifer Sincock, EPA, at (215) 814-5766, for further information. A series of public meetings will also be held.
[Wednesday, September 22, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 183)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces the availability of their Draft NOAA Climate Service Strategic Vision and Framework. Comments will be accepted until October 18, 2010 via the link above. NOAA will also host a series of webinars. Contact Brady Phillips at NOAA for further information, at (202) 482-2365, or visit the website. [Wednesday, September 22, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 183)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing changes to analysis and sampling test procedures for wastewater. Comments on the Guidelines Establishing Test Procedures for the Analysis of Pollutants Under the Clean Water Act; Analysis and Sampling Procedures will be accepted until November 22, 2010. Visit, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0192. Contact Lemuel Walker, at (202) 566-1077, or Meghan Hesenauer, both Engineering and Analysis Division at EPA, at (202) 566-1040 for more information.
[Thursday, September 23, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 184)]

NRC- The Nuclear Regulatory Mission will hold a meeting, “Evaluation of the Groundwater Task Force Report,” on October 4, 2010, in Rockville, Maryland. Teleconference and webcast will be available. To submit comments, visit, Docket ID NRC-2010-0302. For more information, contact Barry Miller at (301) 415-4117.
[Thursday, September 23, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 184)]

USARC- The U.S. Arctic Research Commission will host its 94th meeting in Fairbanks, AK, from October 6-8, 2010. Contact John Farrell, Executive Director, USARC, (703) 525-0111, for further information. [Friday, September 24, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 185)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency announces its 2010 release of the Causal Analysis/Diagnosis Decision Information System (CADDIS), software for aquatic systems evaluations. Please contact the Information Management Team at (703) 347-8561 for further information.
[Friday, September 24, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 185)]

EPA- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board requests nominations of experts for the review of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan. Nominations should be submitted by October 15, 2010, via Ms. Iris Goodman, Designated Federal Officer, at (202) 564-2164.
[Friday, September 24, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 185)]

NASA- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will hold a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council on October 6, 2010, in Palmdale, CA. Contact Ms. Marla King, NAC Administrative Officer, NASA, at (202) 358-1148 for further information.
[Tuesday, September 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 187)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requests comments on the NOAA Space-Based Data Collection System Agreements by Novemeber 29, 2010. Please submit them to Diana Hynek, Department of Commerce, or call Kay Metcalf (301) 817-4558.
[Tuesday, September 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 187)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will host a meeting of the Hydrographic Services Review Panel on October 12-13, 2010, in Vancouver, Washington. Visit the HSRP website or contact Captain John E. Lowell, Jr. NOAA Designated Federal Officer, at (301) 713-2771 with further questions.
[Tuesday, September 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 187)]

NOAA- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant Advisory Board will meet on October 16-17, in New Orleans, LA. View information about the National Sea Grant Program or contact Ms. Elizabeth Ban at (301) 734-1082. [Tuesday, September 28, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 187)]

DOE- The Department of Energy will host a meeting for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling on October 13, 2010, in Washington, D.C. Christopher A. Smith, DOE, can provide further information, at (202) 586-0716. [Wednesday, September 29, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 288)]

EPA- The Board of Scientific Counselors at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development will meet on October 18-19 in Washington, D.C. Comments can be provided at, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-ORD-2010-0817. Further questions may be directed to Greg Susanke, (202) 564-9945.
[Thursday, September 30, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 189)]

NASA- The Applied Sciences Advisory Group of the Earth Science Subcommittee at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will meet in Washington, D.C. on October 21-22. Contact Mr. Peter Meister in the Science Mission Directorate for further information at (202) 358-1557.
[Thursday, September 30, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 189)]

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 32. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

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Monthly Review prepared by Rachel Poor and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Kiya Wilson 2010 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern and Matthew Ampleman, AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Sources: Associated Press, AAAS, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, New York Times, Washington Post,, National Academies Press, Government Accountability Office, Thomas, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, the White House, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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 October 4, 2010.


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