FY22 Budget Outlook: U.S. Geological Survey

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Publication date: 
November 19, 2021
Number: 
103

House and Senate appropriators are seeking double-digit percentage budget increases for the U.S. Geological Survey for fiscal year 2022. Through the new infrastructure spending law, the agency will also soon begin receiving a total of about $500 million for critical minerals initiatives.

In its appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2022, the House proposes to match the Biden administration’s request to raise the U.S. Geological Survey’s budget by 25% to $1.64 billion. The Senate proposes an increase about half as large, falling particularly short of the requested amounts for energy and mineral resources programs, and, unlike the House, it does not include funds for the administration’s apparently ill-starred proposal to create a multiagency Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate.

Regardless of how the regular appropriations process unfolds, over the next four years USGS will receive $511 million in additional funds through the newly enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, mostly for critical minerals initiatives. The agency may also receive a $150 million infusion this year through the Build Back Better Act, which the House passed today and Democrats are aiming to maneuver through the Senate using Congress’ budget reconciliation process.

The regular appropriations bills are accompanied by explanatory reports from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees that contain policy direction for selected USGS programs. Highlights from the reports are summarized below, and summary figures are available in FYI's Federal Science Budget Tracker.

Climate research

ARPA–C. The administration has argued that creating an ARPA for Climate would complement the existing ARPAEnergy by developing climate mitigation and adaptation technologies, such as predictive tools for disaster risk management. However, the concept has gained little traction in Congress, in contrast to the proposed ARPA for Health, which has considerable support. Although the House would provide half the $60 million requested for the USGS portion of ARPA–C’s budget, no other funding has been proposed in either chamber for any other agency’s contribution. In a letter to appropriators, House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated the new agency would require congressional authorization and that her committee has no plans to develop such legislation absent a “far more convincing” case such an entity is the appropriate mechanism for pursuing its declared goals.

Climate science centers. Funding for USGS National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers would double to $84 million under the Senate’s proposal, meeting the agency’s request, while the House proposes $82 million. Of the increase, the House specifies that almost $11 million is to support expanded engagement with Tribal communities and $3 million is for synthesizing research from the nine regional centers into nationally relevant products. The ninth center, focused on the Midwest, was established by USGS in September, in line with prior congressional direction. The version of the Build Back Better Act the House passed today would provide an additional $50 million for the centers in fiscal year 2022, which USGS would have 10 years to spend on activities to “provide localized information to help communities respond to climate change.”

Geologic sequestration. Within a proposed $24 million increase to $54 million for the Energy Resources program, the House directs that $6 million go toward geologic carbon sequestration work, and specifically for “advancing the understanding of alkalinity sources of carbon mineralization with a focus on mapping and assessing resources along with associated impacts.” USGS requested a $20 million increase for research related to biologic, geologic, and coastal methods for sequestering carbon. The Senate does not provide direction for carbon sequestration but does propose about a $7 million increase for the Energy Resources program overall.

Critical minerals

The House proposes to increase the Mineral Resources program budget by $31 million to $91 million, exceeding the request by $5 million, while the Senate only proposes a $7 million increase. Of the total, the House specifies that $21 million is for research on mine waste and whether critical minerals can be recovered from it, and allocates about $7 million each for locating and forecasting critical minerals and for supply chain research. USGS requested $15 million for mine waste research, including a new national mine waste inventory and reprocessing initiative, as well as $5 million each for critical minerals and research on green technology supply chains. 

Earth MRI. The House and Senate both direct USGS to provide no less than the current budget of about $11 million to the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI), which is surveying regions of the U.S. thought to harbor large concentrations of critical minerals. However, the new infrastructure law will vastly expand the initiative, providing $320 million, distributed evenly over five years. It requires that within 10 years the initiative “complete an initial comprehensive national modern surface and subsurface mapping and data integration effort,” and document “areas containing mine waste to increase understanding of above-ground critical mineral resources in previously disturbed areas.” In addition, the law provides $167 million, all in fiscal year 2022, for USGS to establish an agency-owned, university-operated facility for research in energy and minerals, with no time limit on when the funds must be spent.

Natural hazards programs

kilauea-october-eruption.jpg

A USGS scientist films an erupting volcano vent on Mount Kilauea.

A USGS scientist films an erupting volcano vent on Mount Kilauea.

(Image credit – USGS)

The House matches the request for a $32 million increase in the $175 million budget for the Natural Hazards mission area, while the Senate proposes a $22 million increase. In both cases, the additional funding would be spread across the mission area’s activities, which include increasing preparedness for earthquake, volcano, landslide, and coastal hazards.

Earthquake hazards. Both bills match the request to increase the Earthquake Hazards budget by $7 million to $93 million and specify that $29 million should go to further developing and expanding the ShakeAlert early warning system. USGS requested $26 million for ShakeAlert, which it first deployed statewide in California in 2019 and extended to Oregon and Washington this year. Both House and Senate appropriators reiterate concerns they expressed in prior years about the “lack of knowledge and offshore real-time instrumentation available for the Cascadia subduction zone,” which is off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Volcano hazards. The House matches the request to increase funding for the Volcano Hazards program by $3 million to almost $34 million, while the Senate proposes a $5 million increase. Of the total, the Senate directs that about $4 million is for next-generation lahar detection systems, about $4 million is for establishing a National Volcano Early Warning System pursuant to a 2019 law, and about $2 million is for developing early warning systems focused on high-threat volcanoes and establishing the National Volcano Data Center. The House more generally states that its proposal provides amounts requested for next-generation volcano hazard assessments and the National Volcano Early Warning System.

Landslide hazards. The House matches the request to increase funding for the Landslide Hazards program by $3 million to $11 million, while the Senate proposes a $2 million increase. The Senate also encourages USGS to “prioritize efforts to predict and reduce the risk of post-wildfire landslides” and to expand its work in Southeast Alaska, a region that has recently experienced landslides. Expressing concern about the “growing frequency of extreme weather storms,” the House specifies that $3 million go toward “extreme event modeling and the transmission of that information to emergency managers and at-risk communities.” Through the National Landslide Preparedness Act enacted in January 2021, USGS is required to build up its capacity to deploy scientists and resources to landslide sites.

Geomagnetic hazards. The House matches the request to increase funding for the Geomagnetism program by $1.6 million to $5.7 million and directs USGS to “ensure that all magnetic observatories remain open and … to expand the number of observatories.” In its request, USGS stated that the funds would go toward establishing the first of three new ground-based magnetometer stations, adding to the existing set of six sites it uses to develop geoelectric hazard maps, which inform efforts to make the electric grid more resilient against solar storms. The Senate proposes a $1.1 million increase for the program and directs USGS to provide at least level funding for its electric and magnetic field observations.

Coastal hazards. Under the House bill, the Coastal and Marine Hazards program budget would increase by $17 million to $58 million as requested, while the Senate proposes a $7 million increase. Within the additional funding, USGS requested $10 million for characterizing risks associated with coastal erosion and sea-level rise, $4 million for assessing the carbon sequestration potential of coastal marshes and wetland sediments, and $2 million for efforts to better tailor its hazards information to stakeholders.

Other programs and initiatives

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USGS’ latest earth observation satellite, Landsat-9, took its first images on Oct. 31. From top: Glaciers in the Himalayas and farm fields in Ontario, imaged in visible and infrared wavelengths.

USGS’ latest earth observation satellite, Landsat-9, took its first images on Oct. 31. From top: Glaciers in the Himalayas and farm fields in Ontario, imaged in visible and infrared wavelengths.

(Image credits – NASA / USGS)

Landsat missions. Both the House and Senate propose steady funding of $85 million for satellite operations, matching the request, with portions of the funds supporting operations of Landsats 7 and 8, the recently launched Landsat 9, as well as development work for the next satellite in the series, Landsat Next.

Geospatial mapping. The Senate proposes to increase funding for the National Geospatial program from $79 million to $87 million, slightly exceeding the $86 million request, while the House proposes $101 million. The House notes that a portion of the funding increase would go to accelerate data collection by the 3D Elevation Program, with the aim of achieving national coverage by 2026. The House-passed Build Back Better Act would provide an additional $50 million in fiscal year 2022 to fund grants and cooperative agreements through the 3D Elevation Program, which USGS would have 10 years to spend.

Water science and technology. The Build Back Better Act would also provide $50 million in fiscal year 2022, again with a 10-year spending window, for “grants and other financial assistance to water resources research and technology institutes, centers, and equivalent agencies.”

Diversity and integrity initiatives. Senate appropriators endorse the administration’s request for a $7 million increase in the current $1.6 million budget of its Scientific Integrity and Diversity and Support for Enterprise Science program. USGS stated it intends to use the funding to encourage students at Minority Serving Institutions and community colleges to pursue advanced degrees in natural science fields, as well as to establish safeguards at the agency against “political interference,” to enhance its “culture of science quality and integrity,” and to provide professional development opportunities for USGS scientists.

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