American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Testimony: House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee

Statement by
Dr. David Applegate, Director of Government Affairs
of the American Geological Institute to the
Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
in support of Fiscal Year 1998 Appropriations for the
U.S. Geological Survey
and the
Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D Program
March 5, 1997

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Good afternoon. I am Dr. David Applegate, government affairs director of the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present AGI's testimony in support of fiscal year 1998 appropriations for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program. AGI also supports funding for geoscience activities in other Interior agencies, particularly the Minerals Management Service.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 30 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate Members. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Two years ago, geoscience agencies under this subcommittee's jurisdiction faced the most serious budgetary challenge in their history. This challenge came even as the United States began to recognize its increasing vulnerability to earthquakes, floods, droughts, water pollution, volcanic eruptions, global environmental change, contamination from waste disposal, and reliance on unstable sources of foreign oil and minerals. None of these problems can be confronted without continuing geoscientific input, as this subcommittee and Congress ultimately determined. Federal investments in the geosciences continue to pay back large dividends, and the rationale for continuing federal support remains strong. The national need for a federal role in the geosciences is based on a number of factors, most notably:

U.S. Geological Survey

According to a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, budgets for science and technology in the Department of the Interior have declined by nearly 24% in constant dollars between fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 1997, more than any other department. Although much of that decrease is due to the closure of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the National Biological Service, many of their former functions that were not eliminated have been transferred to the USGS. Scientific activities within this department should not continue to bear an unfair share of spending cuts, and should instead be strongly supported as a wise investment in the future health of this nation's citizens, environment, and economy. The Survey's new responsibilities should not come at the expense of important existing programs. AGI encourages the subcommittee to support an overall increase in the Survey's budget and to carefully scrutinize the cuts contained within its budget request.

The central mission of the USGS is to provide reliable, objective earth science data and analysis of hazards, resources, and the environment from a national perspective. Virtually every American citizen and every federal, state, and local agency benefits either directly or indirectly from USGS products and services. The USGS is widely recognized for providing unbiased data used by others to better manage the nation's resources. It is to be commended for focusing on the needs of its customers and for developing partnerships to leverage federal dollars. As Chairman Regula wrote in the March, 1996 issue of Geotimes, the Survey's "willingness and ability to respond to the changing needs of society may have been the single most significant factor in helping it survive in the current budget climate."

The major earthquakes that devastated Kobe, Japan in 1995 and more recently in Pakistan are a powerful reminder of the need for reducing the impact of geologic hazards. In order to be successful, the federal government's increased mitigation efforts must include a strong component of research into these hazards. The societal benefits and returns on investment of geoscience R&D on earthquakes and other geologic hazards extend to such areas as housing, transportation, commerce, agriculture, communications, and human health and safety.

The severe flooding that has devestated parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia is yet another reminder of the continuing need for the streamflow information provided by the USGS that is the basis for flood forecasts by the National Weather Service and emergency response planning by federal, state, and local agencies. This information is collected through the USGS Federal-State Cooperative Program, a partnership with over 1,100 state and local agencies that cost-share the data collection which the USGS then makes available to all potential users. This program should receive funding adequate to maintain historical levels of service and support modernization.

The health of the nation's water resources is another prominent national concern. Depletion of surface-water and ground-water supplies has reached significant proportions in some regions, and contamination is a problem in many communities. As the primary source of data on the nation's water resources, the USGS monitors ground- and surface-water contamination and other threats to our water supplies, contributing to the remarkable levels of public health enjoyed by all Americans. The importance of such activities was illustrated by the broad bipartisan support shown in last year's successful reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Geologic maps are a fundamental data source for natural hazard mitigation, environmental remediation, land-use planning, and resource development. AGI hopes that the current efforts in Congress to reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992 will be successful and that new legislation will remind the Administration that geologic mapping should remain a cornerstone of the USGS mission. AGI is concerned that the President's request includes a $1.6 million cut in the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, and we urge this subcommittee to fully fund the program and particularly the external StateMap and EdMap components that are matched by state and university dollars.

Although AGI is generally supportive of the use of contracting for map production and other services where the private sector can do a better job, we are concerned that cost and quality be considered in any calls for an increase in contracting of the mapping functions in the USGS and other Interior agencies. The forthcoming study from the National Academy of Public Administration should provide much-needed information on which to base future decisions on these issues.

If carefully managed, the Survey's assumption of new responsibilities formerly housed in the National Biological Service and U.S. Bureau of Mines can significantly enhance the core responsibilities of the USGS. The Bureau of Mines mineral information function provides valuable information on national and world mineral resources that must not be lost. The integration of the National Biological Service functions provide a number of opportunities for focused interdisciplinary research in areas such as South Florida and the San Francisco Bay. The highly successful National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program already collects both hydrologic and biologic data for our nation's watersheds. Last February, AGI convened a workshop of key scientific and professional societies in the geosciences and life sciences to address the scientific opportunities and challenges resulting from the merger of NBS and USGS. The resulting consensus report, released in June, was intended to provide useful stakeholder input for both the Department of the Interior and Congress in implementing this merger.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development

In 1994, domestic oil production declined to its lowest level since 1946. For the third consecutive year, the United States has imported more than 50 percent of its total oil demand. Imported oil accounted for about 31 percent of the merchandise trade deficit in 1994. Further decreases in domestic production will exacerbate the trade deficit problem and increase foreign dependence on a resource that is vital to the economic strength and national security of the nation. AGI recognizes and supports the need for critical research on renewable resources and energy efficiency, but we wish to emphasize that continued research on fossil energy is no less important to America's future. The societal benefits of fossil energy R&D extend to such areas as economic and national security, job creation, capital investment, and reduction of the trade deficit.

DOE's Fossil Energy R&D program is making a significant contribution to development of new technologies required for cost-effective, efficient development of U.S. oil and gas resources. Reductions in the program would adversely affect the domestic oil and gas industry, particularly small independent producers, and would not be in the best interests of the nation. The federal money spent on these programs goes to support laboratories and improve information dissemination. This money does not go into corporate coffers, but it will help American businesses stay in business by giving them a technological edge over their foreign competitors.

AGI supports the integration of the oil and gas programs as has long been done in industry. Combining these programs will result in improved efficiency and better reflects the way that the researchers currently do their work. AGI requests that the committee grant DOE's request for R&D programs within the Office of Fossil Energy. These funds are a small fraction of DOE's total budget, but they represent an important investment in America's future. We particularly urge that funding should be maintained for the following key components:

AGI appreciates this opportunity to present our views to the subcommittee. We would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record.

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

Last updated March 5, 1997

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