The first two weeks of July were especially busy on Capitol Hill as lawmakers made a final legislative push before they left for recess. Appropriations bills were high on their agenda since Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 expires at the end September, and the Senate and House are now on a seven-week hiatus until September 6. One of these bills, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 5538) passed the House by a vote of 231-196.
The bill funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI), including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, President Obama issued a lengthy veto threat citing concerns that include underfunding core DOI and EPA programs, a failure to invest in oil spill prevention and preparedness, and “highly unacceptable” policy riders that undermine environmental protections. Among the amendments with negative impacts on the ocean and atmosphere was one that would prohibit funding to “implement, administer, or enforce” the administration’s National Ocean Policy. A full list of amendments can be found here.
An agreement could not be reached to advance the Senate’s Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017, S. 3000, which funds defense agencies, including Navy research and development. However, the partisan split was less about the bill itself (spending allocations were under the agreed-upon limit, and the bill passed unanimously out of committee) and more about politics. Many insiders predicted that this distrust between parties would effectively put an end to efforts to pass individual appropriations bills, but bipartisan efforts are underway to resume discussions after the recess.
Unlike the defense appropriations bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943) was agreed to in the Senate. The bill, which establishes priorities for for Navy’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation; Basic Research; Applied Research; Advanced Technology Development; and many other programs, will proceed to conference committee with the previously-passed House version, H.R. 4909.
The House approved several other bills with relevance to the ocean science community, including the Global Food Security Act of 2016 (S. 1252). The bill would require the president to develop and implement a strategy to promote global food security, resilience, and nutrition. While it does not mention ocean health specifically, issues of food security are intimately related to the ocean since fishing, aquaculture, and coastal resilience all depend on a healthy ocean and high-level research. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 5639) passed by voice vote; the bill would reauthorize through FY 2017 NIST, which promotes U.S. innovation and competitiveness through the advancement of measurement science, standards, and technology. The reauthorization would enhance education and outreach efforts (including research and post-doctoral fellowship opportunities), improve industrial technical services, and require independent review of laboratory programs. While not opposing passage of the bill, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) did express concern that the bill did not include feedback from experts. The House also quickly passed H.R. 5658, the Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent (TALENT) Act of 2016, which would codify the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program to attract innovators to government positions to address issues at the intersection of policy, technology, and process.
Several energy-related bills were introduced in July. New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker introduced the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Trust Fund Act of 2016 (S. 3163) and the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Unlimited Liability Act of 2016 (S. 3165) to eliminate bailouts for the multi-billion-dollar petroleum industry, increase accountability for oil spills, and improve the federal government’s oil disaster relief efforts. Sen. Menendez explained, “If you drill and spill, then you must pay the bill.” Another petroleum-related bill, the Oil and Gas Payments Taxpayer Protection and Deficit Reduction Act (S. 3150) would apply outer continental shelf revenue toward reducing the federal budget deficit. The American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016, S. 3110, which was introduced by six Republican senators, would provide reforms to U.S. outer continental shelf administration and aid development of geothermal, solar, and wind energy on public land. Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) introduced S. 3169 to eliminate the tax credit for wind production, which he decreed as “wasteful.” The bill would put the $8.1 billion savings toward basic energy research. Further, the Transparency and Honesty in Energy Regulations Act of 2016 (H.R. 5668) would prohibit the secretary of energy and the administrator of the EPA from using the social cost of carbon or methane in decision-making.
Three additional new bills were more conservation focused. The bipartisan Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2016 (H.R. 5776) would reauthorize the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Response Grant Program and increase funding for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured marine mammals. The Senate version of the bill, S. 3059, was introduced in June. Representative Sam Farr (CA-20)’s H.R. 5797, the California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area Designation and Management Act, would establish the California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area to protect these areas in the exclusive economic zone off the coast of California. The Coral Reef Conservation Act Reauthorization and Enhancement Amendments of 2016 (H.R. 5821) would reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, which authorizes federal activities seeking to preserve and restore coral reef systems and increase scientific research by focusing attention and providing government funds for reef programs and projects.
While the summer heat in D.C. and around the country has been breaking records, the political heat will continue to rise when Congress returns from recess in September and legislators consider moving these bills forward in advance of the fast-approaching presidential election. The wide variety of legislation moving last month that have oceanic implications serve to highlight the importance of a healthy and well-studied marine system for all citizens.
Access the updated legislative tracker here.