Government Affairs Program AGENCY ACTION ALERT

Comments Sought on Energy, Environmental and Research Issues

Posted: February 22, 1999; Action Completed June 4, 1999

Update: The comment period for these announcements closed at the beginning of June 1999.

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: The federal government is seeking public comment on a number of issues that can affect geoscientists. Public comment periods, which typically last from 30 days to several months, are the principal mechanism for federal agencies to receive feedback on draft rules, regulations, and policies before they are put into final form and officially promulgated. Deadlines for the issues covered below range from March 15th to June 4th. Addresses are provided to which comments may be submitted. The topics are:

Please let us know if you send a response to any of these comment requests: AGI Government Affairs Program,, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302; fax 703-379-7563.


BLM Proposes "Plain English" Revisions of Oil and Gas Rule
As part of Vice President Gore's reinventing government initiative, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed a rule that would revise its current onshore oil and gas leasing and operations regulations. According to BLM, "it is written in plain English, uses performance standards in certain instances in lieu of the current prescriptive requirements, incorporates BLM's onshore orders and national notices to lessees, revises and replaces BLM's current unitization regulations with a more flexible process, eliminates redundancies, clarifies procedures and regulatory requirements and streamlines processes. The rule does not attempt to make wholesale changes to the federal regulatory system for oil and gas leasing and operations." The full text of the rule and explanatory remarks are available on the BLM website:

BLM is accepting comments on the proposed rule through June 4. Comments should be submitted by mail to BLM, Administrative Record, Room 401LS, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240 or via email to will also hold public workshops on the proposed rule in Bakersfield, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver, Colorado; Billings, Montana; Washington, D.C.; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The dates and specific sites of the hearings will be announced later.

BLM Accepting Comments on Grand Staircase Management Plan
President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah over two years ago, setting aside the lands as "exemplary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists." The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which was charged by the original presidential proclamation to develop a management plan within three years. BLM is currently accepting comments on a draft plan that includes five alternatives, which place varying degrees of emphasis on scientific research in the monument.. Given the monument's creation for scientific purposes, a number of geoscientists have raised concerns over restrictions on access for research and education. The draft plan is available on the web at and comments can be made from that web site. Due to a high volume of public feedback, BLM has extended the comment period by one month until March 15, 1999.

NSF Seeks Input on Environmental Research
Last March, the National Science Board (NSB) established a Task Force on the Environment to help NSF define the scope of its role with respect to environmental research, education, and assessment and determine the best means of implementing activities related to this area. Environmental research is a high priority of NSF's new director, Dr. Rita Colwell, who earlier this month unveiled a new Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative as part of NSF's Fiscal Year 2000 budget request. The task force is in part an outgrowth of last year's rejection by the NSB of a proposal to create a National Institute for the Environment within NSF. More on that at

The task force is now accepting comments and feedback via email: and is holding a town meeting on Monday, March 8, 1999 at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The task force is slated to submit a report with final recommendations during the National Science Board's May 5-7, 1999 meeting. More information on the initiative is available on the NSF website at

USGS Environmental Impact of Fossil Energy Web Workshop
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is currently hosting a web workshop to solicit comments on six energy-related environmental issues being considered for the USGS Geologic Division's Energy Resource Program strategic plan of future research. The web site provides information on the proposed projects and serves as a public forum where participants can comment on these projects and provide additional feedback on future Energy Resource Program environmental efforts in general. No closing date is given for the comment period.

Provision to Apply FOIA to Federal Grants
Last October, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) took advantage of a closed-door bargaining session on the 4,000 page omnibus appropriations bill to add a provision requiring the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to revise its policy on sharing federally funded research data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This provision directs OMB to change the regulations in Circular A-110 (Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations) "to require Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under FOIA." Under the provisions in Circular A-110, this provision would apply to most nonprofits that receive a grant or cooperative agreement, but not to federal contractors. Currently, only the sponsoring federal agency can request raw data from researchers.

OMB's interpretation of language seems to limit the effects of the provision by applying it only to "data relating to published research findings produced under an award that were used by the federal government in developing policy or rules" but does not define data, research, or policy. The scientific community has raised several concerns regarding the provision, including the potential misuse of data before it has been peer-reviewed or published, the effect on intellectual property rights, the possible violation of confidentiality of human research subjects, and delay and disruption to scientific work by groups with contradictory interests to the results of the research. National Academy of Science President Bruce Alberts wrote a letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew expressing these and other concerns. Meanwhile, House Science Committee Ranking Member George Brown introduced a bill on the opening day of the 106th Congress to repeal the provision. A full explanation of the history of the provision is available on the AGI website:

The notice is available on the WAIS website: Comments should be sent to: F. James Charney, Policy Analyst, Office of Management and Budget, Room 6025, New Executive Office Building, Washington, DC 20503 or by email to: They must be received by April 5.

Alert Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs

Sources: Bureau of Land Management, US Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Psychological Association

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Uploaded February 22, 1999; Action Completed June 1999

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