In a Geotimes online
poll, run during August and September, 60 percent of you said that geoscience
topics, including energy and land-use policy, are major factors in your choice
for president. Here, we offer some status reports and updates on some of those
geoscience-related policies from oil and gas drilling in Alaska to funding
the space program. Interspersed throughout is information we compiled secondhand
on the major presidential candidates viewpoints.
In June, we sent the Bush and Kerry campaigns 20 questions on key geoscience issues. And while both campaigns agreed to answer the questions, two months later, neither side had answered the questions, despite several follow-ups. Perhaps this is a sign of the times candidates have too little time and bigger fish to fry or perhaps it says something about how seriously these policy-makers view earth science issues.
slope for drilling in Alaska
In the 36 years since the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, environmentalists and the petroleum industry have argued over how much federally owned land on the North Slope, if any, should be opened for oil and gas exploration. The debate has left policy-makers trying to weigh the potential gain of extracting petroleum against the environmental impact of drilling in a relatively pristine ecosystem.
Politicians continue to debate oil and
gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to caribou
and other Arctic species. Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The upcoming presidential election could have a large impact on the central point of that debate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), 19 million acres of northeast Alaska that Congress set aside in 1980 to conserve habitat for caribou, musk ox and other Arctic species. In section 1002 of the conservation act, Congress postponed a decision about future management of the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain region (the so-called 1002 area), which geologists believe holds valuable oil and gas resources, but which is also part of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Despite recent attempts by Congress and the White House, measures to open ANWR to drilling have continually been defeated in the Senate, where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), among others, has voted against them. The most recent measure, taken up last June, tied the opening of the refuge to health benefits for retired miners in an effort to gain the support of coal mining states. Congress dropped the proposal after the miners union rejected it, but the debate over ANWR is far from over.
Its never off the table, says Judy Brady, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. As long as this country needs oil, ANWRs never going to be off the table.
|Kerry Vs. Bush: Energy Policy|
|In addition to disagreeing on whether or not to drill for oil and gas on federal lands on Alaskas North Slope, the two leading presidential candidates propose different approaches to meeting the nations energy needs. For more on some of their proposals on alternative energy, see below.|
|Encourages cooperation between the United States, Canada and Mexico to expand North American energy supplies||Supports increased domestic oil and gas production, including on federal and tribal lands|
|Agrees with construction of a natural gas pipeline extending from Alaska to the lower 48 states||Wants to authorize construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 states|
|Opposes opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration||Favors opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration|
|Wants to suspend filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until prices return to normal||Supports filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce dependence on foreign oil sources|
According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States uses
about 20 million barrels of petroleum a day, or about 7.3 billion barrels a
year, more than half of which is imported. A 1998 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
petroleum assessment of the 1002 area of ANWR reported between 4.3 billion and
11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil on federal lands. The amount
that is economically recoverable, however, depends on many factors, including
exploration, production and pipeline costs, as well as the market rate of a
barrel of oil.
Proponents of drilling ANWR maintain that it could alleviate the nations dependence on foreign oil, while opponents maintain that the cost to the environment is too high and that too little oil will be recovered to impact the countrys petroleum needs. The United States has only 3 percent of the worlds proven oil reserves, and we use 25 percent of the worlds produced oil, says Charles Clusen, Alaska project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. We cant drill our way to oil independence.
While both presidential candidates agree that the country needs to decrease its dependence on foreign oil, they have different ideas about how to do it. Bushs energy plan focuses on increasing the countrys energy supply by encouraging domestic production through various means, including opening ANWR to drilling and building new oil refineries. Kerrys energy plan focuses on conservation, tax incentives for fuel-efficient cars and supporting the development of alternative fuels such as ethanol from agricultural waste.
Although ANWR is inaccessible for now, new oil and gas development is proceeding in other regions of the North Slope, initiated by the recent discoveries of some productive wells and, possibly, by the lack of progress with ANWR. I think the companies have given up on getting access to ANWR. They basically are looking in other areas, not counting on ANWR being opened up, says geologist Ken Bird, project leader for USGSs Alaska Petroleum Studies Project and co-author of a 2002 petroleum assessment of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA).
According to the report, federal lands in the 23-million-acre tract west of Prudhoe Bay may hold between 5.9 billion and 13.2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. NPRA was set aside in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding as a petroleum reserve for the U.S. Navy.
The discovery in 1994 of the Alpine oilfield from reservoir rocks that trend westward across the border and into NPRA has renewed interest in the region. Since then, NPRA lease sales, the first in 20 years, have resulted in discoveries in the northeast section in 2001 and 2002. Most recently, the Bureau of Land Management held a lease sale on 5 million acres of the northwest section of NPRA last June (see Geotimes, July 2004).
According to Brady of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, neither the NPRA lease sales nor a proposed natural gas pipeline project are expected to be affected much by the outcome of the November election; however, the eventual fate of ANWRs 1002 area could be. There is some concern, for instance, that if a Democratic candidate won, she says, that portion of ANWR thats supposed to be open for oil and gas could be made into a wilderness area.
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Managing Federal lands
The U.S. federal government manages 454 million acres of land, about 20 percent of the countrys landmass, with most of this acreage in the West. Over the past year, debate over management of federal lands has intensified, with topics such as oil and gas exploration and production, wildfire protection and most recently the Bush administrations revision of the roadless rule entering the political spotlight.
A new rule that gives the decision-making for road building to state governors could affect exploration and development of federal lands in roadless areas outside of Grand Teton National Park, pictured here, for example. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.
Included in those broad topics are several issues that will continue to face the federal government no matter who takes office next year, says Gary Brewer, director of the Environmental Management Center at Yales School of Forestry, from liquid natural gas pipelines in offshore protected areas, such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (see Geotimes, July 2004), to leasing in Wyoming for natural gas drilling (at issue in the courts). The geology is all the same, he says, but the politics never seem to get resolved.
Indeed, the debate over road building on national forest land has been around since before the Clinton administration banned road building and logging on about 58.5 million acres on Jan. 12, 2001. Under development since 1999, the Roadless Areas Initiative received at least a million public comments, of which only a small percentage were negative. Postponed at first by the Bush administration and, following several lawsuits, the rules eventually took effect on a temporary basis in the intended wilderness areas, except for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
This July, however, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced a completely new rule that gives the decision-making for road building to state governors, to localize the process and to reduce further battles in court. The prognosis for the 2001 rule is continuing litigation, she said in a press conference in Boise, Idaho, on July 12.
|Kerry Vs. Bush: Land Use|
|The debate over federal land management in the United States covers a wide array of topics, including wildfire protection, national park maintenance and development of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Heres how the candidates face off on some of these topics.|
|Plans to increase the operating budget of the National Park Service by $600 million in the next five years and ban ATV use in parks||Has committed $4.9 billion toward handling the National Park Services maintenance backlog, but provided only $2.8 billion|
|Would establish Forest Health Councils to evaluate environmental impacts and fire prevention techniques, and would ban logging in rare and old growth forests||Proposed the Healthy Forests Initiative to clear out undergrowth and trees to decrease fire hazards|
|Favors reinstating federal
protection of roadless areas
|Has shifted protection of roadless areas to the states|
|Would require all lessees and users of public lands (farming, mining, etc.) to return them to their original state||Promotes a conservation program to restore and protect habitats affected by farming|
|Opposes creation of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada||Plans to authorize a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada|
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The evolving debate over teaching evolution
As the United States heads into the congressional and presidential elections in November, few people will be paying close attention to local races, such as who sits on local or state school boards. But such races can prove exciting or devastating depending on a persons point of view when watching the ongoing debate about the teaching of evolution in the classroom.
In the last couple of years, most states have witnessed or been embroiled in debates over how the theory of evolution should be presented in public schools. Two of the more recent debates in Roseville, Calif., and Darby, Mont. fall under the win column for evolution proponents, as local communities and school boards rejected moves to include anti-evolution materials, according to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
But a new battle in Kansas is just beginning to brew. In August, the state school board election turned over to a conservative majority for the first time in five years. And in a year where the state science standards are under review, this bodes ill for the future, says Eugenie Scott, director of NCSE.
Were three meetings into the process of reviewing the state science standards, which will go on all year, says Greg Schell, who left his position as Kansas science education consultant shortly after the election. The recent election affords opponents of evolution at least a 6 to 4 majority, according to NCSE. Thus, if we come back with standards similar to the current science standards, the board [of education] will likely reject them, Schell says.
One of the Kansas education board members just elected to his fourth term on the board, Republican Steve Abrams, has said that the standards should solely include good science that is measurable, observable, testable, repeatable, and that evolution does not meet that definition, according to the Wichita Eagle.
Weve been through this before, and its just wrong for science and wrong for the students, Schell says, referring to the 1999 battle over the presentation of evolution in Kansas education standards (see Geotimes, October 1999), which Abrams proposed. Its like 1999 all over again, Scott agrees, adding that in 1999, the board voted to de-emphasize evolution in science textbooks. The board, she says, has been split evenly between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists since then, so this is the year the conservatives have been waiting for to make the changes, a year when an election swings the board, and thus the presentation of evolution, one way or the other.
Election years are always problematic, Scott says, because it seems like we have more local politicians posturing for local groups, leading to a tendency for legislative bills and school board bills that affect the teaching of evolution. One problem in elections is that citizens do not always pay close attention to whom they elect in local races, such as for school boards, says Judy Scotchmoor, a former middle school earth science teacher who now works at the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology.
In California as elsewhere, Scotchmoor says, there are local influences trying to include variations of anti-evolution sentiment in curricula, whether taking the form of intelligent design, creationism, or the latest teaching the controversy, which includes teaching purported strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution and teaching that there are other scientific alternatives out there.
The approach anti-evolutionists take to incorporating some form of creationism in curricula is evolving, Scott says. They are working hard to present anti-evolution more subtly, as less recognizable, she says. The sentiment is couched in terms of teaching our children to think critically, but that method becomes problematic when singling out evolution among the many scientific theories.
Scott Linneman, a geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., who leads seminars for elementary, middle and high school teachers on how to teach science, says that while the presentation of evolution in the classroom is a political battle not likely to go away soon, its also a personal battle for the teachers. Many of the teachers he has worked with, he says, have told him that they end up not teaching the tenets of evolution. And it is not always because of local or state school board political decisions, but sometimes because they face challenges and pressure from students, parents and community members. But taking the path of least resistance will only hurt the students in the long term, Linneman says. What the science community needs to do, he says, is to arm teachers with ways to teach interesting or difficult topics like natural selection, to answer difficult questions, and to teach these topics without getting their heads chewed off.
In a science class, science needs to be taught, Scotchmoor says, and not all teachers are prepared to answer questions that can be deeply personal to students. It would be a shame, she says, for teachers to avoid teaching controversial topics because they dont know how to answer questions.
And as the recent election in Kansas shows, we need to pay attention to who gets elected everywhere, Scotchmoor says. On the national level, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) differ in their views. According to his campaign staff, Bush believes ideologically that both evolution and creationism ought to be taught. Kerrys platform suggests that he believes only the best science should be taught.
Whether the race is presidential, congressional or local, people need to be vigilant, Scott says. People need to understand how important it is to pay attention to all races and all policies.
"Kansas rejects evolution," Geotimes, October 1999
"Creationism in a national park," Geotimes, March 2004
"Textbook battle over evolution," Geotimes, September 2003
"Evolution opponents score in Georgia," Geotimes, November 2002
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Funding and the fate of NASA
After the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in February 2003, NASA was left in limbo with all planned shuttle missions grounded, and the future of human space flight uncertain. Then, in January of this year, President Bush announced a bold proposal reaffirming the United States commitment to human space exploration and calling for a complete restructuring of NASA to meet those goals. The new plan is the largest change to the U.S. space program since President John F. Kennedy called for a manned mission to the moon in 1961. However, with a projected 2004 federal deficit of $450 billion and little to no increases in the NASA budget, some pundits are questioning the wisdom and feasibility of such a plan.
In June 1995, the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time paving the way for the International Space Station now in orbit. Under Bushs new space exploration plan, NASA will retire the Space Shuttle after the completion of the Space Station in 2010. Image courtesy of NASA.
Today we set a new course for Americas space program, Bush said in his unveiling speech at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. His plan calls for a permanent base on the moon by 2020, which will serve as a stepping stone towards the human exploration of Mars. After the completion of the International Space Station in 2010, NASA will abandon the Space Shuttle program in favor of developing a new spacecraft, called the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The new vehicle will continue to service the space station after the shuttle is retired, but its main purpose is for space exploration, Bush said.
Bushs focus on human space exploration is a significant departure from the faster, better, cheaper philosophy championed in the 1990s under President Clintons administration. Clinton trimmed NASAs budget, and former NASA administrator Dan Goldin pushed for smaller unmanned missions on shorter timescales. The faster, better, cheaper approach produced some remarkable successes such as Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor, but also turned out embarrassing failures such as Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter.
These smaller missions generally cost hundreds of millions of dollars and took three to four years to complete, compared with decade-long projects with billion dollar price tags such as Galileo and Cassini. Analysts estimates for the cost of Bushs new plan vary, but a similar plan, put forward by his father as president, was estimated to cost between $400 billion and $500 billion over an extended period. Congress did not approve that plan.
In this election year, some politicians, including presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former astronaut Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), have expressed reservations about the cost and funding level of Bushs new plan. In a written response to questions from Space News, Kerry wrote, there is little to be gained from a Bush space initiative that throws out lofty goals, but fails to support those goals with realistic funding.
In 2004, NASA received $15.4 billion. Bush wants to slightly enlarge NASAs budget in the next few years, with additional revenue coming from the completion of the International Space Station, the end of the shuttle program and interagency cuts. Bush also created the Presidents Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy to explore ways to reduce the cost and ensure the success of his vision for space exploration.
The commission suggested that NASA streamline its bureaucracy, increase privatization and encourage the commercialization of space. We would like NASA to try to leverage investment to get even greater outside involvement, says Laurie Leshin, the director of the Center of Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University and a member of the White House commission that produced the report. She points to prize-based incentives like the privately funded Ansari X Prize that have captured public attention and resulted in millions of dollars of private investment. NASA has begun to adopt some of the commissions recommendations, although it is unclear how much money the changes will save.
NASA would have saved some money earlier this year when it announced (citing safety concerns) that it would not launch a shuttle mission intended to repair the aging Hubble Space Telescope. Following intense public outcry, however, NASA is now planning a robotic repair mission, which is estimated to cost at least $1 billion. But who knows how much it is actually going to cost, says Kevin Marvel, deputy executive director of the American Astronomical Society. In the best scenario, Congress may decide Hubble is of such national importance that it will come up with new money to fund the project. If Congress does not fully fund the repair mission, it is likely that NASA will take funds from its space exploration program, Marvel says.
So far, Congress has been tightfisted concerning space spending. In July, a Republican-led House subcommittee voted to cut NASAs budget by 7 percent to $15.1 billion $1.1 billion less than what the president requested. The vote coincided with the 35th anniversary of Neil Armstrongs first steps on the moon. The bill would fully fund the Space Shuttle and Mars exploration programs, but would cut other programs, such as the Crew Exploration Vehicle.
The White House has threatened to veto the Houses spending bill. The Senate will probably bring up their bill sometime in October, says Sam Rankin, the chairman of the Coalition for National Science Funding. We have heard some rumors that [the Senate] bill might do better than the House, but the funding might still not meet the presidents request.
Nevertheless, the public appears supportive of President Bushs new space directive. A recent Gallup poll, funded by the Coalition for Space Exploration, reported that 79 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats support the plan.
"Space Exploration and Development: Why Humans?," Geotimes, June 2004
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In July, the city of New York and eight states joined together in an unprecedented lawsuit to argue that global warming is a nuisance to the public and a threat to local economies. The suit specifically takes aim at five major power producers and their carbon dioxide emissions. While the outcome of the lawsuit remains to be seen, the action itself highlights the strategies states and smaller governmental organizations are taking in the absence of a unified federal policy on emissions. It could also be a harbinger of a shift in the societal response to global climate change.
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announces to reporters the recent lawsuit by eight states and the city of New York that charges five major power companies with creating a public nuisance through carbon dioxide emissions.Image courtesy of the Office of the Attorney General of New York.
The science has been there for a while, says Lisa Dilling, a project scientist at the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. We already are seeing climate change, she says, citing, for example, Alaska, where millennia-old frozen tundra is now thawing. However, the costs associated with the regulation of contributing behaviors and arguments over the rate and geologic history of climate change have hindered movement toward a solution.
In the United States, most measures to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide are strictly voluntary for now. While major oil companies, including Shell Oil, ExxonMobil and BP, have statements on the threat of global climate change, and either fund or conduct research on carbon sequestration and other applicable measures, only about 50 major companies have signed on to the Bush administrations Climate Leaders program. About a dozen of those companies have made nonbinding pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by varying amounts in five to 10 years, and a handful of others have pledged reductions between 4 percent and 40 percent by 2012.
The Kyoto Protocol, which President Clinton signed in 1998 but from which President Bush withdrew, would have set U.S. goals overall at a 7-percent reduction. The European Union, Canada and more than 150 other nations have signed and pledged to reduce their greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions by varying amounts by 2012. Russia is considering signing, in order to join the World Trade Organization. These measures abroad may come home to the United States because companies wishing to operate internationally will have to comply with their host countrys regulations, say some industry watchers.
|Kerry Vs. Bush: Alternative Energy|
|Although the leading presidential candidates have offered little in the way of a national climate change policy, they do have something to say about alternative energy solutions and their potential impact on the environment.|
|Proposes investing $10 billion in the development of cleaner-burning coal power||Implemented the Clean Coal Power Initiative to demonstrate advanced coal-based power-generation technologies|
|Proposes an increased use of domestic ethanol and biofuels on the order of 5 billion gallons by 2012||Favors increased use of domestic ethanol and biodiesel using a credit trading system|
|Opposes Bushs proposed research forum for nuclear energy||Favors funding for the development of nuclear fusion as a viable energy source|
|Wants 20 percent of U.S. electricity derived from renewable energy sources by 2020||Would provide tax incentives for the use of alternative energy (wind, solar, etc.) in residential areas|
|Supports development of a Hydrogen Institute to research alternative-fuel-based vehicles, promising $5 billion in funding||Endorses the development of hydrogen-fuel-based cars through the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, promising $1.7 billion in funding|
|Will provide tax incentives to buyers and manufacturers of alternative fuel vehicles||Will provide tax incentives to buyers of alternative fuel vehicles
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|Kerry Vs. Bush: Clean Air|
|Each presidential candidate has offered different solutions to regulating and reducing harmful emissions from coal-fired plants.|
|Advocates increased funding for retrofitting existing coal plants to provide cleaner, safer energy||Promotes a coal-based, zero-emission electric and hydrogen power plant, which will reduce greenhouse gases|
|Wants to eliminate Bush-Cheney rollbacks on the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury||Has introduced the Clear Skies legislation to reduce power plant emissions, especially mercury, by up to 70 percent over the next 15 years|
|Wants to enforce existing laws limiting corporations emissions and establish a compliance deadline||Recommends a cap on nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions that cross state borders|