The Policy News Briefs page features an ongoing newsfeed of the most up-to-date geoscience policy information. Click on the topic(s) in the filter menu below to learn more!
Sinkholes have engulfed entire homes, sewer systems, and eight classic cars from the National Corvette Museum. However, with the help of science and technology, communities are developing solutions to the challenges of living in areas prone to sinkholes. These areas, also known as karst landscapes, cover more than one-fifth of the United States and can pose risks to lives and property.
The White House tapped Wells Griffith this month to join the National Economic Council as the leader of its international energy efforts, including the Administration’s climate positions. Mr. Griffith currently serves as the principal deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy’s office of international affairs. The appointment is for a term of three months, but could lead to a more permanent position.
Congress responded to President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal through a series of hearings in which committee members questioned the heads of key federal agencies regarding funding mechanisms, permitting processes, and other logistical aspects of the proposal. Although the White House has been pushing for Congress to complete an infrastructure overhaul by the end of the year, senior administration officials conceded in a phone call with reporters on March 28 that pieces of President Trump's infrastructure plan are likely pass via smaller infrastructure-related bills, as recently suggested by congressional leadership, instead of the broad package proposed last month.
Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill on March 23 that will fund the federal government through September 2018. The 2,232-page bill, entitled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, rejects the Administration’s proposed deep cuts to federal science agencies. Instead, many science agencies received increased funding, in part due to the increased budget authority for FY 2018 non-defense discretionary spending agreed to last month in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
For more information on the federal budget process, including a more detailed programmatic funding analysis for geoscience-related agencies, please visit AGI’s Overview of Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations.
On March 14, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on energy infrastructure cybersecurity and emergency response. This hearing is the third hearing in a series of hearings concerning DOE modernization efforts dating back to January 2018. The committee discussed a series of bills introduced earlier this month – H.R. 5174, H.R. 5175, H.R. 5239, and H.R. 5240 – that attempt to harden the nation’s energy infrastructure and protect the electric grid and energy supply chain from cyber-attacks.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke defended the President’s FY 2019 budget proposal for his department to members of Congress on relevant House and Senate committees. The President’s FY 2019 request for the Department of the Interior (DOI) includes a total of $11.7 billion in discretionary appropriations, which is a reduction of more than $1 billion from the current funding level. During the hearings, Secretary Zinke explained that while the Department will continue to emphasize energy development, its priorities this year revolve around "conservation, infrastructure and reorganization."
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request and funding priorities for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Although the Administration initially proposed a $2.2 billion cut to NSF’s budget compared to FY 2017, an addendum released with the budget request provided flat funding for the agency at approximately $7.47 billion. While the FY 2019 budget request would sustain the same FY 2017 funding level for the agency overall, it proposes a different distribution of funds for programs within NSF.
On March 15, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing entitled “Abandoned Hardrock Mines and the Role of Non-Governmental Entities” to discuss the laws and procedures governing the reclamation of hardrock mines in the U.S. and highlight areas where reform is needed. A panel of expert witnesses at the hearing testified regarding the need for “Good Samaritan” legislation providing relief of the potential liability as well as funding to facilitate the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines.
On March 7, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space held a hearing on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) budget for fiscal year (FY) 2019. The President’s FY 2019 request includes a total of $19.9 billion in funding for NASA, a 1.2 percent increase from the FY 2017 enacted funding level. The President’s request proposes shifting the agency’s existing resources to focus on deep space exploration activities, starting with another human mission to the Moon in 2023, with the intent of setting the stage for future human missions to Mars. It also proposes to eliminate the Office of Education in order to redirect its funding for deep space exploration.
On March 1, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launched the second in a new series of four highly advanced geostationary weather satellites. GOES-S was renamed GOES-17 on March 12 upon reaching its geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth, and will drift to its operational position at NOAA’s western geostationary location in late 2018. Working in tandem with the GOES-16 satellite currently operating at the eastern geostationary position since December 2017, the GOES-17 satellite will provide faster, more accurate, and more detailed data for detecting and tracking of tropical cyclones, volcanic eruptions, fire hot spots, and other natural hazards.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act (H.R.589/S.2503) by voice vote on March 8, 2018. The act, first introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) in January 2017, aims to provide DOE with specific guidance on energy science research coordination and reforms to streamline national laboratory management.
On March 7, the full House Committee on Natural Resources marked up the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act (H.R.520), following a hearing to consider the bill last month. The Act, introduced by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) on January 13, aims to support domestic production of minerals that are of strategic and critical importance to the economic and national security, energy infrastructure, and manufacturing competitiveness of the Unites States. H.R.520 was reported favorably as amended by the committee, and now awaits further action on the House floor.
On March 6, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. James Reilly to be Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski welcomed Dr. Reilly in her opening statement, acknowledging her initial surprise that an astronaut was nominated to run the USGS, but imparting her confidence in Dr. Reilly’s extensive geoscience education and career. Senators at the hearing questioned Dr. Reilly about protecting scientific integrity, defending USGS funding, and specific issues facing their respective states.
To track the progress of key geoscience nominees, please visit AGI’s federal nominations page at https://www.americangeosciences.org/policy/federal-nominations.
The House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology convened a hearing titled “A Review of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Science” to review sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct in science. The hearing highlighted the need to reform workforce culture in the scientific sphere and showcased modern and relevant policies that federal agencies and scientific organizations are implementing to address harassment.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is moving forward with major plans to reorganize his department, which includes agencies such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Each of the nine agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI) currently operate under separate and unique regional structures. The Secretary’s proposal would change this management structure by establishing unified regional boundaries for all Interior bureaus in an effort to reduce administrative redundancy, shift resources to the field, and improve interagency coordination.
On February 22, the U.S. District Court for Northern California issued a preliminary injunction against suspension of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2016 rule on Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation. The Obama-era rule seeks to reduce methane waste from venting, flaring, and leakage during oil and gas production on onshore federal and Indian lands. The latest court decision is one in a series driven by legal sparring between proponents and opponents of the measure, which began almost immediately after the rule was finalized.
Oo February 15, the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus introduced their first piece of legislation, the Challenges & Prizes for Climate Act (H.R.5031). Sponsored by Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL-3) with five other caucus members signed on as original cosponsors, the bill aims to establish a Climate Solutions Challenges program within the Department of Energy to fund clean energy prize competitions and consequently spur innovation in key areas critical to combating climate change.
On February 15, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing to explore how participation in mentoring, training, and apprenticeship opportunities impact science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students and workforce development. In his opening remarks, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) emphasized the increasing STEM workforce demand and importance to the nation’s economic prosperity.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed into law by President Trump on February 9, contained language that provides tax incentives for carbon sequestration. The bill expands the carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credits and allows new CCUS technologies, such as direct air capture (DAC), to qualify. This language was initially proposed in the FUTURE Act (S.1535) introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) on July 12, 2017.
On February 13, the House passed five bipartisan bills to more equitably allocate National Science Foundation (NSF) research funding towards early childhood studies and to support research facilities and programs at Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories.
President Trump released his $4.4 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2019 on February 12 prioritizing defense, border security, infrastructure, and the opioid crisis, while proposing significant cuts to many domestic programs, including science agencies. The President’s FY 2019 Budget was released along with a last-minute addendum outlining additional spending priorities that effectively rolled back some of the initially proposed cuts to a few science agencies, such as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, even with the addendum additions, the President’s request for non-defense discretionary spending remained $57 billion below the caps agreed upon by Congress.
In conjunction with the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request, President Donald Trump released his Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America on February 12. The proposal asks Congress to act soon on infrastructure legislation that will stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment over the next ten years, shorten the process for approving projects to two years or less, address unmet rural infrastructure needs, empower state and local authorities, and train the American workforce of the future.
For the second time in 2018, the federal government went into a partial shutdown on February 9 – this time for just under nine hours – until H.R.1892 passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Trump. The bill funds the federal government at fiscal year (FY) 2017 levels until March 23, 2018, raises the budget caps for FY 2018 and FY 2019 by almost $300 billion, increases the debt limit through March 1, 2019, and provides nearly $90 billion in disaster relief for recent fires and hurricanes.
After the second session of the 115th Congress began on January 3, two new members were sworn into the Senate – Doug Jones (D-AL) and Tina Smith (D-MN) – bringing the party numbers to 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents. There is now a one-vote margin separating the majority and minority for each committee in the Senate, except the Judiciary Committee which has a two-vote margin. House committee assignments have also shifted in the second session, with the Energy and Commerce Committee welcoming four incoming Republican members and new leadership announced in the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that any challenges to the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule must be filed in federal district courts, not federal courts of appeals. While the Supreme Court’s ruling would have permitted enforcement of the WOTUS Rule in 37 states, the EPA and USACE finalized a rule on January 31 that creates a new applicability date for the WOTUS rule two years from now.
On January 30, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing to discuss the implementation of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA). The AICA reauthorized and updated policies at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and other federal science agencies.
President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 30. Despite the administration’s efforts over the past year to make energy independence and dominance a priority, the President only made a few passing remarks relating to energy and natural resource issues during his speech. “We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” President Trump stated, adding that, “We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world.”
On January 30, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a full committee hearing to address the role of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in preparing for and responding to natural hazards, as well as the current status of mapping and monitoring systems. Several witnesses testified regarding early warning systems and programs for earthquake, volcano, and tsunami hazards.
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Dr. James Reilly to be Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at the Department of the Interior. After a 13-year career at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Dr. Reilly currently serves as a technical advisor on space operations for the U.S. Air Force’s National Security Space Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dr. Reilly worked for 15 years as an oil and gas exploration geologist with Enserch Exploration, Inc. prior to joining NASA. After 98 presidential nominees were rejected on January 3, President Trump sent a list of several of these nominations back to the Senate on January 8 seeking to fill other key science positions in his administration.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on January 23 that underscored concerns surrounding the reliability and resiliency of the electrical power system, particularly under certain weather conditions. Experts on the witness panel discussed the overall performance of nation’s grid during recent cold weather events, and potential areas for improvement.
The federal government went into a three-day partial shutdown after the Senate rejected a short-term spending agreement that passed in the House to keep agencies funded past January 19. The shutdown ended when both chambers passed and President Donald Trump signed H.R.195 into law on the night of January 22. H.R.195 funds the government at FY 2017 levels through February 8, extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years through FY 2023, and delays the enactment of three health care related taxes.
On January 19, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to identify and examine regulatory obstacles to offshore geological and geophysical resource surveying on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The hearing was held in response to a December 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing the permitting process for seismic research and identifies instances of inefficiency and inconsistency in meeting federal internal control standards. Congress is seeking compromises within the regulatory framework that would allow the U.S. to understand our offshore resource potential and ensure national energy security, while also minimizing the negative effects of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment.
According to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report released on January 18, the U.S. is currently the global leader in science and technology (S&T), though our nation’s share of global S&T activities is declining as others continue to rise. This year’s report indicates that the U.S. invests the most in research and development (R&D), attracts the highest venture capital, awards the most advanced degrees, and is the largest producer in high-technology manufacturing sectors. However, U.S. leadership in the global science and engineering landscape is being challenged by rapidly developing nations, particularly China.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced his plans for the development of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024. The new Draft Proposed Program (DPP) aims to make more than 98 percent of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in the OCS available for leasing and exploration. Less than a week after release of the DPP, Secretary Zinke informally announced that all of Florida’s coastline would be removed from consideration in the proposed five-year leasing program, prompting questions from various lawmakers and other stakeholders about the apparent preferential treatment given to the state.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is now mandating review by a political appointee for all grants and cooperative agreements with an individual or aggregate award of at least $50,000 to a nonprofit organization that can legally engage in advocacy or to an institution of higher education, and for all grants or cooperative agreements of over $100,000. In the memo, DOI’s principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget instructed other assistant secretaries and heads of bureaus and offices to submit qualifying grants and agreements to one of his senior advisors for approval.
On January 8, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) rejected a proposal that was submitted by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in September 2017 to subsidize the operating costs of coal and nuclear power plants, since the rule did not satisfy certain statutory standards. However, FERC also recognized that this issue warrants further attention and initiated a new proceeding to specifically evaluate the resilience of the bulk power system in certain operating regions.
On January 8, the Senate unanimously passed Senator Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act (S.1425). The bipartisan bill revises and reauthorizes the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (ICOOS) Act of 2009, which established the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to consolidate and coordinate the efforts of hundreds of federal, state, and local observing programs through fiscal year (FY) 2021. In addition to reauthorizing the ICOOS Act, S.1425 promotes best practices regarding data sharing for public use, investment in autonomous unmanned underwater and surface ocean research vehicles, closing gaps in high frequency radar, and assisting Coast Guard search and rescue operations.
Last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report titled Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space. Commissioned by the civilian agencies involved with space-based Earth observations – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey – the study identifies key science and application priorities for 2017-2027. The report calls for the overall U.S. government’s program of Earth observations from space to be robust, resilient, and appropriately balanced, and for federal agencies to ensure efficient and effective use of U.S. resources.
Following several executive orders issued by President Donald Trump, the Department of the Interior and the EPA announced rulemaking revisions to offshore drilling protections, fracking regulations, and the Clean Power Plan in the final days of 2017.
On December 22, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to provide for tax reform and legislation to continue funding the federal government under fiscal year (FY) 2017 levels through January 19. Lawmakers from various states impacted by hurricanes and wildfires this year were seeking billions more in disaster aid funding, but Congress stopped short of sending an $81 billion relief package to the President before the end of the year.
On December 22, the USGS released a new assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). Just weeks before release of the USGS report, the Bureau of Land Management held its annual oil and gas lease sale for all available tracts in the NPR-A on December 6. The sale lasted less than 10 minutes and received only 7 bids.
Following a highly destructive wildfire season this year for the west coast, the House passed the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R.4661) to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration, the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants program through fiscal year 2023.
Following the release of a USGS report on 23 mineral commodities that are critical for the U.S. economy and security, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals. Shortly after the executive order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a secretarial order on December 21 directing the initial steps to producing a nationwide geological and topographical survey of the U.S.
On Monday, December 18, a day that was informally declared “Science Day in Congress”, the House considered three bipartisan pieces of legislation that support careers and education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
At an executive session on December 13, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of Barry Myers as Administrator of NOAA, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2017.
On December 12, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing, “Examining Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Minerals,” to discuss reasons for the declining self-sufficiency of the United States for mineral commodities, and the consequences of relying on foreign sources for critical minerals.
On December 4, following an ongoing review by the Department of the Interior of 27 national monuments, President Donald Trump signed two proclamations reducing the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by about 85 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly released his final report to the President one day later, which recommended modifications to national monuments in Nevada, Oregon, and California.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on December 14 to consider the Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act, introduced by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) to create Utah’s sixth national park - the Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on November 30 to discuss a draft bill to promote timely geothermal energy exploration under federal leases, and three other bills related to geologic mapping and hazards research, monitoring, and response.
Geoscience information is integral to strengthening the economy of the last frontier. This briefing will highlight the importance of the geosciences for sustaining infrastructure, supplying energy to the nation, and expanding commerce in the Arctic.
At this widely attended briefing, learn more about the critical applications of geoscience information as communities brace for dynamic subsurface freezing and thawing, maritime trade routes expand, and new energy resources are discovered. In this dynamic landscape, geoscience is critical to inform economic decision making.
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