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Monthly Review: October 2009

This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

    ***Administration News and Updates***
    1. Nominations: USGS and ARPA-E Directors Confirmed
    2. Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize, Climate Policy Cited

    ***Congressional News and Updates***
    1. Congress Passes Interior Appropriations, Science Funding on Hold
    2. Climate Change Legislation Passes Despite Boycott
    3. Congress Concerned About Access to Domestic Minerals
    4. NEHRP and NWIRP Reauthorization Passes Committee
    5. House Authorizes $10 Million for AmericaView
    6. Solar R&D Bill Passes House
    7. House Bill Aims to Provide $250 Million to Clean Tech Start-Ups
    8. Measure Proposes a New Oil and Gas Leasing Agency
    9. Congress Is Tweeting Away Says CRS Report

    ***Federal Agency News and Updates***
    1. NSF Releases New Vision For the Geosciences
    2. NSF Launches Dead Zone Interactive Site
    3. DOI Releases Review of Oil and Gas Leases in Utah
    4. BLM Work with Advocacy Groups Potentially Illegal
    5. EPA Caught Up in Mountaintop Mining Considerations
    6. State Surveys Get $17.79 Million in DOE Geothermal Grants
    7. New DOE Plan for Clean Energy Loans
    8. NASA Using Airplanes to Make Up For Satellite Void
    9. NRC Says Nuclear Design Cannot Withstand Natural Hazards

    ***Other News and Updates***
    1. Survey Finds Public More Skeptical of Global Warming
    2. Math Proficiency Levels Stagnant for American Students
    3. Study Ties Drought to Population, Not Climate Change
    4. Key Reports and Publications
    5. Key Federal Register Notices
    6. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

1. Nominations: USGS and ARPA-E Directors Confirmed

On October 21, 2009 the Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for the directors of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Marcia McNutt is confirmed as the first female director of the USGS. McNutt was previously the CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California. She received her B.A. in physics from Colorado College and her PhD in Earth Sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She has taught at MIT, Stanford University, and University of California, Santa Cruz. She also has previous work experience with the USGS having started at the USGS as part of the earthquake studies team soon after graduate school. McNutt starts on November 5, 2009.

One of McNutt’s top priorities is to survey the underwater resources off the U.S. coast. Though her background and focus has been primarily in marine geophysics, she promised she would not forget the land. A full write-up of her confirmation hearing can be found here:

Arun Majumdar is confirmed as the first director of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. ARPA-E was started in 2007 to fund high-risk, high-reward research that can develop clean energy technology. Majumdar has been the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a professor of engineering and materials science at University of California, Berkeley. His research focus has been energy efficiency technology and nanotechnology applications to limiting heat loss in electricity production.

2. Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize, Climate Policy Cited

President Obama has become the third sitting U.S. President to win the Nobel Prize for Peace. According to the Nobel committee, one contributing factor in his win was Obama’s “more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.”

Obama has been credited with changing the official U.S. stance on climate and committing to solve the issue at a global level. More broadly, Obama has worked to re-engage the international community after a rift created by U.S. abstention from the Kyoto protocol.

In just the tenth month of his presidency, Obama’s win has met with widespread surprise. Groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have congratulated the President, but maintain that there is much work to be done, a fact Obama pointed out himself. Many others have criticized the win as based on expectations rather than actual accomplishments.

3. Congress Passes Interior Appropriations, Science Funding on Hold

Congress passed and the President signed the Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on the October 30, 2009 deadline. The bill (H.R. 2996) became Public Law 111-088 and more details about the funding requests are also available in the conference committee report (111-316). The October deadline was based on a continuing resolution passed at the end of fiscal year 2009. Included in the Interior appropriations bill is a second continuing resolution for four other appropriation bills that have not been completed.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) received a total budget of $1,111.74 million for fiscal year 2010. The final budget is slightly above the President’s request and the House and Senate levels. About $5 million in congressionally-mandated projects were included in the final appropriations, which account for most of the increase. These projects are primarily local to regional natural resource management assessments and research investigations that benefit from USGS expertise. By law, the legislation includes a complete list of these projects and interested readers may find a table of projects and costs in the measure.

The Smithsonian Institution received $636.2 million for fiscal year 2010, about $2 million more than requested by the President and Congress. The additional funds are designated for the care of “priceless historical collections” within the various museums.

The Environmental Protection Agency received $846 million for science and technology, $2.994 billion for environmental programs and management, $1.3 billion for superfund clean-up, $113 million for underground storage tank clean-up, $18 million for oil spill research and $4.97 billion for state and tribal assistance grants for environmental programs. In most cases, these funding levels reflect compromises between small differences between House and Senate proposed levels, with Congress favoring one House level or splitting the difference between two different levels. The details of funding for other EPA programs is available in the legislation and associated reports.

Congress also requested EPA to consider more research on hydraulic fracturing, black carbon, Great Lakes marine vessel emission controls and the health effects of fuel efficiency and emissions reduction efforts related to climate change.

The new deadline for completing fiscal year 2010 appropriations for Science/Commerce/Justice, Defense, Military/Veteran Affairs and Transportation is now December 18, 2009. The science bill includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The greatest uncertainties about funding levels for science are likely to revolve around requests for human spaceflight within NASA and climate, satellite and fisheries funding within NOAA. Science funding may also see changes as Congress tries to balance the remaining budgeted levels between these four bills. Defense and Transportation are the largest and most complex of the remaining appropriations and there is concern that funding requests in these bills may overwhelm the others.

More information about the appropriations is available from Thomas.

4. Climate Change Legislation Passes Despite Boycott

The debate on the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate, officially referred to as the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” or S. 1733, ramped up in mid-October. Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and co-sponsor of the bill, steered the bill out of committee on November 5 after three comprehensive hearings during the last week of October.

The Republicans on the committee staged a boycott of discussions on the bill because they wanted to get a detailed cost analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first. Boxer did not want to delay the bill any longer on a redundant request, so after three days of trying to reach a compromise the committee voted 11-1 in favor of the bill without considering amendments by either party. No Republican committee members were present for the vote breaking a tradition of having at least two minority party members as part of any quorum for committee votes. The one vote against the bill came from Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) who felt his amendments needed to be addressed. Among the 80 amendments submitted by Democrats, Baucus’ amendment would decrease the emissions target from a 20 percent reduction to a 17 percent by 2020.

The latest version of the Kerry-Boxer climate bill is 959 pages in length and was released to the public on October 30. The bill is separated into two major divisions: “Authorization For Pollution Reduction, Transition, and Adaption” and “Pollution Reduction and Investment.” The first division includes titles for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs, research, transition and adaptation. To reduce GHG emissions, the bill looks to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which includes finding geological storage sites and developing demonstration projects, plus advanced nuclear energy, water efficiency, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas. The research covers advanced energy and drinking water adaptation. Water is also covered in the adaptation programs which provide safeguards for natural resource conservation and additional programs for floods, wildfires, and coastal adaptation. The second division outlines the “cap-and-trade” scenario, or the benchmarks for carbon dioxide reductions, the GHG registry systems, and the offsets program. The bill calls for a 20 percent reduction of GHGs compared to 2005 levels by 2020 and an 83 percent reduction by 2050.

The newest version includes one major addition. It limits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s power to regulate GHGs by making sure congressional emission caps preempt EPA’s ability to moderate emission under the Clean Air Act. The addition also gives EPA more power over large industrial emission sources than the Waxman-Markey bill in the House. EPA has been flexing its regulatory power already in regard to those large point sources, issuing a rule on October 30 to force sources emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents to constrict emissions.

The Democratic majority is trying to get a Senate-approved measure passed before the Copenhagen climate summit in December. Besides the Kerry-Boxer bill, other portions of the a full climate change bill are awaiting votes in the Finance Committee and the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee

Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are also working outside of the committees to find solutions to garner the 60 votes needed for passage. Senators Graham and Kerry wrote an op-ed for the NY Times in mid-October calling for more offshore oil and gas drilling and greater incentives for nuclear energy. Their plan will likely be on the discussion table as these provisions could garner more support from Republicans and some Democrats.

With the number of controversies and compromises still to be tackled, it is unlikely the bill will reach the Senate floor before Copenhagen or even by the end of this year. While the continued uncertainty about congressional actions on climate change would be a significant disappointment for the Administration and the international community, President Obama has indicated that he will make climate change legislation a top priority once health care reform legislation is completed.

5. Congress Concerned About Access to Domestic Minerals

An earmark to protect rare earth element mines and bills to promote access to molybdenum-99 isotopes show a growing concern in Congress over the dearth of domestic access to mineral resources.
The shortage of rare earth minerals prompted Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) to add an earmark to the House Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 3326) for $3 million to help reopen a California rare earth mine. According to Lewis the controversial funds were necessary for Molycorp Minerals, owned in part by Goldman Sachs, to quell national security concerns. This appropriations bill is still awaiting conference committee approval.

Rare earth minerals have seen their value balloon in recent years, thanks to their utilization in high technology military devices and renewable energy applications like hybrid batteries and wind turbines. The growing interest in supply stems from progressively tighter restrictions on export from China, the world’s single dominant producer. China controls the vast majority of supply for all 17 rare earth elements, including up to 99 percent for some elements such as Terbium. After four years of decreasing permits for export, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has reportedly submitted a recommendation to the Chinese administration to further tighten exports. Amid global concern though, MITT responded that a ban would never be enforced.

On a different, but related issue, there is growing concern in the U.S. about the supply of the isotope, molybdenum-99, which is needed for medical imaging. The U.S. stopped production of the isotope, which is a fission product of highly purified uranium-235, partly out of concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation and partly out of concerns about nuclear waste disposal. Earlier this year, a reactor in Canada used to produce the isotope broke down, nearly crippling American supplies. The American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276) would promote developing U.S. production of the isotope, molybdenum-99, according to its sponsor, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), to ensure a stable and consistent supply of the isotope for cancer scans and brain imaging in American health care facilities.

The molybdenum isotope concern has also been addressed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2647) which became public law this month. In addition, H.R. 2647 requires the Defense Science Board to study and report on the extent to which military capabilities are impacted by supplies and the potential shortage of rare earth minerals.

6. NEHRP and NWIRP Reauthorization Passes Committee

On October 21, 2009 the Natural Hazard Risk Reduction Act of 2009 (H.R. 3820) was unanimously voted out of the House Science and Technology Committee. H.R. 3820 includes reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP) with some changes. The new bill includes an emphasis on social science research and decreases in authorization levels. In addition, the bill introduces a new interagency coordinating committee on multi-hazards. This new committee will look at hazard research across disciplines and agencies as well as coordinating the NEHRP and NWIRP programs. It would increase the number of federal agencies involved at the coordinating committee level above the current NEHRP committee.

Two amendments were added in committee, one by Representative David Wu (D-OR) to broaden the social science language within the National Science Foundation (NSF) section of the bill to give the agency more flexibility to carry out social science research. The amendment also makes sure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cooperates at the local, state and federal levels. Lastly it makes it clear that NOAA is responsible for developing wind hazard maps, but is not responsible for maintaining them. The second amendment came from Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) to add the understanding of the wind impact on water to NOAA’s responsibilities.

7. House Authorizes $10 Million for AmericaView

The House approved a bill to establish a national cooperative geospatial mapping program. The National Land Remote Sensing Outreach Act (H.R. 2489) authorizes $10 million annually for an AmericaView program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in fiscal years 2010 through 2019.

The program goal is to disseminate imagery from satellites and airplanes for education, research, assessment, and monitoring purposes across the nation. It is based on the current AmericaView project that started as a partnership between the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center and a consortium of universities that expanded the use and distribution of satellite data and imagery. The bill would create a consolidated program at the USGS.

A companion bill (S. 1078) was voted out of committee in the Senate in August, but is awaiting full Senate approval.

8. Solar R&D Bill Passes House

The Solar Roadmap Technology Act (H.R. 3585), introduced by Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the House Science and Technology Committee, passed the House on October 22 and awaits approval in the Senate. The bill would allocate $2.25 billion from fiscal years 2010 to 2015 for solar research and development projects. It also would create a “Solar Technology Roadmap Committee” of Department of Energy (DOE) appointed experts, a third of which will be solar industry representatives. It also mandates that by 2012, 30 percent of the DOE funding for solar research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) is consistent with the roadmap recommendations, and is ramped up to 75 percent by 2015. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will be in charge of awarding grants to carry out the solar programs and providing awards to industry for solar manufacturing RD&D.

9. House Bill Aims to Provide $250M for Clean Tech Start Ups

Representative Glen Nye (D-VA) introduced the Small Business Early-Stage Investment Act of 2009 (H.R. 3738) to allocate $250 million for a Small Business Administration program designed to provide grants to small and early stage companies in clean technology.

Despite the growth in interest for clean technology, lending in the sector has been hit hard by the recession. Studies show that investment fell by over half throughout the past year. Proponents of the bill noted the potential economic benefit to be unleashed by the investment.

The funds will be administered through established venture capital firms. This system was commended by supporters in business and government for the potential efficient and effective investment that can be made by professionals. The strict stipulations of the bill, however, may prove to be an issue in the venture capital community. A mandate to spend the fund within five years may be too quick as many capital venture funds last 10 or more years. The stipulations for experience and fund success could also prevent talent laden young firms from participating in the program.

10. Measure Proposes a New Oil and Gas Leasing Agency

The Minerals Management Service Reform Act (H.R. 3736) has been introduced by Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) to remove the Minerals Management Service (MMS) from the Department of the Interior (DOI) and make it an independent agency. MMS, which oversees oil and gas royalty payments, would become an independent federal agency with a director appointed by the President. Issa argues that this will allow for more effective oversight by Congress.

House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) disagrees and introduced a bill of his own (H.R. 3534) that would consolidate the energy programs of both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and MMS into one office at DOI in charge of onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing. Rahall says this bill will also give more authority to DOI’s inspector general.

Secretary Ken Salazar agrees that an office is needed within DOI to collaborate between BLM and MMS, but it is yet to be seen how to best set up and carry this out.

11. Congress Is Tweeting Away Says CRS Report

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report analyzed congressional Twitter use during a two-week period in August 2009. Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows users to post “tweets” of 140 characters or less online that are in turn delivered to their subscribers. The report found that 29 percent of the House and 31 percent of the Senate was registered on Twitter, capitalizing on the new social networking and communication tool to increase communication with their constituency. At the time of the report, 158 Representatives and Senators were using Twitter. Now over 200 are reported “tweeters” according to

The CRS data shows that nearly 1, 200 “tweets” were sent in the two-week sampling, at an average of 85 per day and most being sent on Thursday. From the report, House Republicans sent the most tweets (54 percent), followed by House Democrats (27 percent), Senate Republicans (10 percent), and Senate Democrats (9 percent). “Members' use of Twitter can be divided into six categories: position taking, press or web links, district or state activities, official congressional action, personal, and replies. The data suggest that the most frequent type of tweets were press and web link tweets…followed by official congressional action tweets during session (33 percent) and position-taking tweets during recess (14 percent).”

Refer to or to find members of Congress on Twitter.

12. NSF Releases New Vision For the Geosciences

The National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Advisory Committee for Geosciences (AC-GEO) released GEO Vision: Unraveling Earth’s Complexities through the Geosciences, a new long-term strategy document for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO). AC-GEO found the top challenges for the geosciences in the future to be: understanding and forecasting Earth system behavior, reducing vulnerability and sustaining life, and growing the geoscience workforce. The report shows that geoscientists are well-suited to bring the insight needed to address the pressing issues facing the Earth.

AC-GEO believes the NSF is the only research agency in the U.S. with the breadth and capability to understand the broad challenges in Earth systems to protect resources, environment, energy supplies, human health and the economy. The recommendations for GEO involve maintaining fundamental and interdisciplinary geoscience research, conducting groundbreaking research, communicating the science to the public and policymakers, engaging K-12 students, and coordinating within NSF and with other agencies. The report highlights several key research areas for GEO, including natural hazards, ocean acidification, gas hydrates, EarthScope, the Ocean Observatories Initiative, atmospheric observations, and Earth science literacy.

This vision document reflects four years of work by AC-GEO, and replaces the 1999 document NSF Geosciences Beyond 2000. The updated GEO Vision incorporates new science, new technology, and new opportunities for GEO.

13. NSF Launches Dead Zone Interactive Site

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new interactive “Dead Zone” website to help answer questions that the public might have about these increasingly prevalent zones of oxygen starved water in the oceans; areas that are virtually devoid of life. This multimedia package features videos, photographs, a narrated slideshow, illustrations, easy-to-understand texts, and downloadable documents.

There are currently over 400 dead zones on the Earth. Dead zones are normally thought of as being the aftermath of pollution, but recently many are thought to be caused by changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that may be a result of climate change. 

To visit this new interactive site, go to:  

14. DOI Releases Review of Oil and Gas Leases in Utah

A Department of the Interior (DOI) review team recommends opening 17 of the 77 leasing sites withdrawn after their last minute sale in the final weeks of the Bush Administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has pledged to uphold the recommendations, and use them as a starting point to overhaul the Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leasing programs. Of the remaining 60 parcels, 8 will be withdrawn and 52 are under further review.

In January, a temporary injunction was issued by a federal district court against the 77 sites in Utah after environmental groups challenged the sales. Many of the sites are located near national parks, or other sensitive lands. In February, DOI withdrew the leases and ordered a thorough review of the sites. 

15. BLM Work with Advocacy Groups Potentially Illegal

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees have been accused of being “less than objective” when working with environmental groups over the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). After a complaint was filed that NLCS directors interacted with advocacy groups in inappropriate ways, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General (IG) investigated the relationship between the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the federal employees. The report states that the communications between the NGOs and NLCS “created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law.” This has Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) demanding reform and review of employee conduct.

The BLM employees have been accused of making and editing brochures and fact sheets for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that were later used for lobbying materials. NLCS Director Elena Daly replied that BLM officials were only helping to double-check facts to ensure that the public got accurate information. Another top official said they were unaware that the brochures would be used to lobby for congressional support.

Upon receiving the findings from the IG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said BLM will not be prosecuted because “the law covering ‘lobbying with appropriated monies’ has no criminal sanctions.” BLM has 90 days to give a written response detailing its future actions due to these findings.

To download a PDF of the full IG report, go to:

16. EPA Caught Up in Mountaintop Mining Considerations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on October 16 that it will retroactively revoke the permit given to Spruce No. 1 Mine in 2007 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The EPA says Spruce No. 1, the largest mountain-top removal coal mine in Appalachia, violates the Clean Water Act giving it the right to veto the USACE permit. EPA is calling for improvements to be made to the mine in order to reduce the environmental and water quality impacts. In addition, last month EPA announced that 79 pending mountaintop removal mine permits will be delayed for more intensive review.

Although these actions by EPA have been applauded by environmentalists, not everyone is happy about them. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said these events prove that the Obama administration is anti-coal and added that there is no possible way to clean up the climate without clean coal. The EPA stated that they are “committed to supporting coal mining in Appalachia, but only if it is done in a manner that complies with environmental laws.”

Beyond just environmental laws, the EPA is being asked to consider social justice in its decisions. A coalition of advocacy groups argues that low-income communities are disproportionately burdened by the consequences of mountaintop removal. The Sierra Club and the rest of the coalition groups say mountaintop mining destroys opportunities for “positive economic growth” in safer, healthier, and better paying jobs. Jason Bostic of the West Virginia Coal Association argued that “if it wasn’t for the coal industry…there would be no economic activity.” Many industry groups agree with this sentiment. The Sierra Club commissioned a study, however, that found that the mountaintop mining “eliminates jobs, drains state budgets, and destroys the region’s potential to generate clean energy.” In addition, the report states that banning mountaintop mining would have very little effect on the price of electricity. The Sierra Club would like the government to reopen its 2003 environmental assessment of mining practices and take social justice and long-term economic impacts into consideration.

17. State Surveys Get $17.79 Million in DOE Geothermal Grants

Energy Secretary Steven Chu dedicated up to $338 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or stimulus) funds for geothermal research, exploration and development grants. In addition, Chu announced that a coalition of 40 state geological surveys led by the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) will gather state-specific data for the new National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) using the Geoscience Information Network (GIN). The GIN is a program between the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) and the U.S. Geological Survey to integrate geological databases into an accessible, online format.

In the grant announcements, AZGS will receive $17.79 million of the funds over three years on behalf of the coalition to populate the NGDS. Most of the other projects announced are also expected to contribute their data to the NGDS.

For more information on the announcement and projects funded, see the news release on the DOE website:

18. New DOE Plan for Clean Energy Loans

Steven Chu announced the Department of Energy’s (DOE) plan to administer up to $750 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to be used towards accelerating the development of renewable energy projects. The funding is intended to cover loan guarantee costs, which could assist in lending between $4 billion and $8 billion to appropriate projects.

To help with this, DOE has created a new loan guarantee program called Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP). According to DOE, the goal of FIPP is to “leverage the human and financial capital of private sector financial institutions by accelerating the loan application process while balancing risk between DOE and private sector partners participating in the program.”

19. NASA Using Airplanes to Make Up For Satellite Void

Without the ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite), NASA needed to find a new way to monitor the Antarctic ice sheet. With the replacement ICESat II not ready to launch until 2014, NASA is turning to airplanes.

In a time of rapid environmental change, it is imperative to sustain continual ice-monitoring to assess the rate and amount of change. A specially outfitted jetliner will conduct surveys of the ice height and the bedrock below. Unlike a satellite, a plane can measure through the ice sheets to quantify the amount of water between the bedrock and ice. NASA hopes to have the ICESat II up and running soon, but will use planes to their advantage to measure some key areas in the interim.

20. NRC Says Nuclear Design Cannot Withstand Natural Hazards

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) informed Westinghouse that its AP1000 Shield Building, designed to protect the nuclear reactor’s primary containment from severe weather and other hazards, failed to meet design standards. The company will have to make modifications to the design so it can withstand events like earthquakes, tornadoes, and high-winds in order for its full application to continue, though the NRC will continue to evaluate the remainder of the company’s reactor proposal.

The NRC press release can be found here.

21. Survey Finds Public More Skeptical of Global Warming

Fewer Americans believe there is good evidence for human induced temperature increases, or that it is a serious problem, according to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey. Of the 1,500 people surveyed from September 30-October 4, only 57 percent agreed that there is solid evidence the Earth is warming. That is down across party lines from the 71 percent who answered the question affirmatively in April 2008. Of those who agreed, a similar decrease is seen in those who thought it was due to human activity. In 2008, 47 percent believed it was caused by humans while the latest survey shows 36 percent. When asked how serious they believed the problem to be, 35 percent answered very serious, down from 44 percent in 2008.

Despite the decreases, the survey shows increased support for a cap-and-trade program with 50 percent of the respondents favoring setting limits on carbon emissions. This comes after a separate Pew Research Center poll on current events during early October found only 23 percent of the 1,002 people called could correctly identify that a “cap-and-trade” program dealt with energy and the environment, as opposed to health care, banking reform, or unemployment.

22. Math Proficiency Levels Stagnant for American Students

The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S.’s most significant standardized test, demonstrate a plateau in math achievement for American students. Released after a bi-annual assessment, the scores show a slight increase in proficiency for eighth grade students, while student in fourth grade showed no improvement.

These results indicate a six year trend of slowed achievement growth since the passage of No Child Left Behind, a law that requires U.S. schools to bring 100 percent of students into reading and math proficiency by 2014. Now five years away, these scores indicate that only 39 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders are making the mark. Results also indicated a failure to close achievement gaps between minority and white students, another goal of the law.

23. Study Ties Drought to Population, Not Climate Change

A Columbia University study found that the drought that overwhelmed the Southeast from 2005-2007 was nothing out of the ordinary. By studying data from tree rings, computer models, and weather instruments, the drought was found to be pretty standard and even mild compared to other droughts even in the recent past. Despite the normalcy of the drought, it forced many states to declare water usage restrictions and file lawsuits against other states over water. Columbia reported that the resulting water shortages were due to population growth and bad planning rather than climate change.

There were 6.5 million people in Georgia in 1990, and now there are 9.5 million people. That is almost a 50 percent increase in only 17 years. The population is still growing and little has been done to reduce consumption or increase storage of water. Although it was much drier in the 19th century, it had less of an effect due to the small population.

Most climate models have actually predicted that as temperatures rise, rainfall will increase in the Southeast, but this will come with an increase in evaporation. Richard Seager, a climate modeler at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, says the best one could hope for is for the two to balance out and that “climate change should not be counted on to solve the Southeast’s water woes.”

24. Key Reports and Publications

***Congressional Research Service (CRS)***
Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2010
Released September 23, 2009. The report details the 2010 budget request for federal research and development from the Obama administration. Total R&D funding would be $147.620 billion, a $555 million and 0.4% increase of FY 2009, excluding American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funding. Notable changes were a 10% increase in NASA funding and a 2.4% cut in Department of Defense (DOD) funding.

***Government Accountability Office (GAO)***
Energy-Water Nexus: Improvements to Federal Water Use Data Would Increase Understanding of Trends in Power Plant Water Use
Released October 16, 2009. The report investigates issues associated with power plant water usage, including approaches to reduce freshwater waste by power plants, state’s consideration of water use when issuing plant permits, and the usefulness of federal water data.

NASA: Briefing on National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Programs and Associated Activities
Released October 15, 2009. GAO was requested to investigate NASA for “duplicative” programs. After concluding the study, the GAO concludes that no programs are in fact duplicative, and that NASA has sufficient safeguards in place for preventing duplicative work.

Clean Water Act: Longstanding Issues Impact EPA's and States' Enforcement Efforts
Released October 15, 2009. This report provides a summary of the past five reports it has conducted on the EPA’s enforcement program. The report details factors that lead to regional inconsistencies, the impact of inadequate resources on enforcement efforts, EPA’s work thus far to improve, and the accuracy and transparency of program metrics. GAO makes no new recommendations in this report.

Clean Air Act: Mercury Control Technologies at Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Achieved Substantial Emissions Reductions
Released October 8, 2009. This report provides the results of a study to evaluate mercury control technologies. It details reductions achieved through their deployment, their cost, and the key issues EPA faces in regulating mercury emissions from power plants.

Climate Change Adaptation: Strategic Federal Planning Could Help Government Officials Make More Informed Decisions
Released October 7, 2009. GAO was asked to examine federal, state, local measures taken to adapt to climate change; challenges those officials face; and actions that Congress and federal agencies could take to help address these challenges. This report is based on studies, site visits, questionnaire responses from officials, and recommendations to the President.

***National Academies of Science (NAS)***
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts
Released October 23, 2009. This report reviews the effectiveness of the former Institute as an independent, open forum that complemented and advanced NASA programs. The report found a NIAC-like entity should be reestablished to provide a mechanism to investigate visionary, far-reaching advanced concepts and foster scientific innovation, creativity, and development

Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use
Released October 20, 2009. The book evaluates key external costs and benefits that are associated with the production, distribution, and use of energy not reflected in market prices, including damages from climate change, effects of some air pollutants, and risks to national security. It is written as a tool for policymakers, scientists, and economists in the earliest stages of research and development on energy technologies.

Final Report from the NRC Committee on the Review of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) Program
Released October 16, 2009. This is the final report of the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on the Review of the LACPR Program. The Program was created by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to preserve the Louisiana coast in the face of natural hazards.  This report provides the Committee’s recommendations on how to improve the Army Corp’s report.

Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World
Released October 16, 2009. This report considers approaching challenges for the agricultural industry, and examines the role of colleges of agriculture in dealing with those issues. Those colleges can play a profound role, according to the report, if a concerted effort is made to change the way in which those schools operate. The report details the necessary changes.

Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet
Prepublication released October 13, 2009. In order to maintain leadership at the front of oceanographic research, the U.S. will need to invest in new and broadly capable research vessels. This report details the needs for this fleet, including the circumstances under which such a fleet should be designed and obtained.

Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund
Released October 8, 2009. The Race to the Top Fund is a grant giving program included in ARRA to encourage state-level education reforms. The report advises rigorous evaluation of projects funded, but advocates against premature application of value-added educational approaches and against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress standardized test to measure programs funded.

Data on Federal Research and Development Investments: A Pathway to Modernization
Prepublication released October 1, 2009. The National Science Foundation (NSF’s) Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS) provides two surveys to review federal R&D funding and efforts. The surveys are currently inadequate due to insufficient resources. The report details the needs of the surveys and a direction for their future.

25. Key Federal Register Notices

The full federal register notices can be accessed online:  

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing an extension of the public comment period for two draft assessment documents titled Risk Assessment to Support the Review of the PM Primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards and Particulate Matter Urban-Focused Visibility Assessment. The extended comment period will close on November 9, 2009. Identify comments by Docket Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0492, and submit online:, or by email:, or by fax: 202-566-9744
[Monday, October 5 (Volume 74, Number 191)]

MMS--The Mineral Management Service (MMS) is inviting comments on the paperwork requirements in regulations “Leasing of Sulphur or Oil and Gas in the OCS,” and “OCS Oil and Gas Leasing,” and the associated supplementary Notices to Lessees and Operators (NTLs) intended to provide clarification, description, or explanation of these regulations. The comment period will close on December 7, 2009. Identify comments by Docket Number MMS-2009-OMM-0013 and submit to:
[Tuesday, October 6, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 192)]

NRC--The National Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a proposed rule for public comment that would amend its environmental protection regulations by updating the NRC's 1996 findings on the environmental impacts related to the renewal of operating licenses for nuclear power plants. The NRC has published for comment the revised Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and a revised Environmental Standard Review Plan (ESRP), Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants. The extended comment period will close on January 12, 2010. Identify comments by Docket Number NRC-2008-0608, and submit by email:, online:, or fax to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at: (301)-415-1101
[Wednesday, October 7 (Volume 74, Number 193)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced amendments added to the new source performance standards for coal preparation and processing plants. These final amendments include revisions to the emission limits for particulate matter and opacity standards for thermal dryers, pneumatic coal cleaning equipment, and coal handling located at coal preparation and processing plants. This final rule is effective on October 8, 2009. All final documents are listed on the website under Docket Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0260. For more information contact Mary Johnson by phone: (919) 541-5025, or email:
[Thursday, October 8 (Volume 74, Number 194)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is publishing the third Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 3) since the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments of 1996. The CCL 3 is a list of contaminants that are currently not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulations, that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems, and which may require regulation under SDWA. The CCL is available under Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2007-1189 listed in the index. For more information, contact the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or e-mail:
[Thursday, October 8 (Volume 74, Number 194)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to convey issues raised by stakeholders about EPA's emissions factors program, inform the public of their initial ideas on how to address these issues, and solicit comments on their current thinking to resolve these issues. Their goal is to develop a self-sustaining emissions factors program that produces high quality, timely emissions factors, better indicates the precision and accuracy of emissions factors, encourages the appropriate use of emissions factors, and ultimately improves emissions quantification. Comments must be received before November 13, 2009. Identify comments by Docket Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0174 and submit to:
[Wednesday, October 14 (Volume 74, Number 197)]

DOE--The Department of Energy published a final rule establishing the procedures and standards for reverse auctions of production incentives for cellulosic biofuels pursuant to section 942 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This final rule is effective November 16, 2009. For more information, contact Lawrence J. Russo, Jr. by phone: (202) 586-5618, or email:
[Thursday, October 15 (Volume 74, Number 198)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes tailoring the major source applicability thresholds for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and title V programs of the Clean Air Act and to set a PSD significance level for GHG emissions. Comments must be received on or before December 28, 2009. Identify comments by Docket Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0517 and submit online:, by email:, or by fax: (202) 566-9744
[Tuesday, October 27, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 206)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the national emission standards for petroleum refineries to add maximum achievable control technology standards for heat exchange systems. This action also amended the general provisions cross-reference table and corrects section references. The final amendments were effective on October 28, 2009. The Docket Number for this action is EPA-HQ-OAR-2003-0146. All documents in the docket are listed in the index. For more information contact Robert Lucas by phone: (919) 541-0884, or email:
[Wednesday, October 28, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 207)]

EPA--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating a regulation to require reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors of the economy. The final rule applies to fossil fuel suppliers and industrial gas suppliers, direct greenhouse gas emitters and manufacturers of heavy-duty and off-road vehicles and engines. The rule requires only that sources above certain threshold levels monitor and report emissions. The final rule is effective on December 29, 2009. The Docket Number for this action is EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0508. All documents in the docket are listed in the index. For more information contact Carole Cook by phone: (202) 343-9263, or email:
[Friday, October 30, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 209)]

26. Key AGI Government Affairs Updates

·  Hearings on Earth Observations (11-2-09)
·  Hearings on Water and Oceans Policy (11-2-09)
·  Hearings on Federal Agencies (11-2-09)
·  Education, R&D and Workforce Policy (10-28-09)
·  Hearings on Energy Policy (10-28-09)
·  Hearings on Education, R&D, and Workforce Policy (10-21-09)
·  Energy Policy (10-21-09)
·  Hearings on Presidential Administration (10-13-09)

Monthly Review prepared by Corina Cerovski-Darriau and Linda Rowan, Staff of Government Affairs Program; Joey Fiore, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; and Mollie Pettit, 2009 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Sources: Greenwire, Associated Press, Environment and Energy Daily, 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, Politico, BHEF, 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.  Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at <> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.


Posted November 6, 2009.


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