There’s a lot to learn about the political process. Where does one start? Check out COL’s government primer for an introduction to the United States policy and budget processes, and learn more about how you can get involved in ocean advocacy and policy development. Read on for an excerpt from the primer.
The U.S. Constitution Provides a Separation of Powers
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH (DRAFTS AND APPROVES LAWS)
| Congress is the legislative branch of the U.S. government and is responsible for making all federal laws. In order to balance the concerns of smaller (but more populated) states against those of larger (but less populated) ones, the drafters of the Constitution formed two chambers within Congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives. This bicameral Congress writes, debates, and passes bills, which then get sent to the president for approval.
Both major political parties (Democrat and Republican) in the Senate and the House of Representatives elect leaders. The leader of the party that controls the most seats in the chamber is called the speaker of the house or majority leader. The leader of the other party is called the minority leader.
EXECUTIVE BRANCH (IMPLEMENTS AND ENFORCES LAWS)
|The executive branch of the United States government consists of the president, the vice president, 15 Cabinet-level executive departments, and all federal agencies. The president of the United States is the head of the executive branch of government and acts as the head of state in diplomatic relations and as commander-in-chief of all U.S. branches of the seven uniformed services. The president, with his/her Cabinet and through its agencies, is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress. All heads of the federal agencies, Cabinet members, and ambassadors are appointed by the president.|
JUDICIAL BRANCH (INTERPRETS AND APPLIES LAWS)
|The judicial branch of government is made up of the court system, including the Supreme Court and other federal courts. The judicial branch interprets the Constitution and laws. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch. Unlike federal (or state) courts, the Supreme Court rules whether something is constitutional or unconstitutional – whether or not it is permitted under the Constitution. Decisions of the Supreme Court set precedents, which are new ways of interpreting the law. All Supreme and federal court judges are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. They have no term limits. If a bill is passed into law by both chambers and signed by the president, the Supreme Court can determine if it is a legal law under the Constitution.|
How a Bill Becomes a Law
Ocean Relevant Legislation
INTEGRATED COASTAL AND OCEAN OBSERVATION SYSTEM ACT OF 2009
In March of 2009, President Obama signed the Integrated Coastal Ocean Observation System (ICOOS) Act establishing statutory authority for the development of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).The ICOOS Act mandates the establishment of a national integrated system of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes observing systems coordinated at the federal level. IOOS partners with the Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT), a NOAA-funded partnership of research institutions, resource managers, and private sector companies dedicated to fostering the development and adoption of effective and reliable sensors and platforms.
FEDERAL OCEAN ACIDIFICATION RESEARCH AND MONITORING ACT
The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM) was passed by Congress in 2009. This legislation established NOAA’s Ocean Acidification (OA) program. The act outlined a coordinated process for federal agencies to create a plan for the effective monitoring of OA processes and consequences on marine organisms and ecosystems through the creation of an Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification. Also included in this legislation is the requirement to develop adaptation strategies to conserve ecosystems vulnerable to the effects of OA (both at regional and national levels) and to assess the associated socio-economic impacts.
MAGNUSON-STEVENS FISHERY CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT ACT
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S.federal waters. First passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act fosters long-term biological and economic sustainability of our nation’s marine fisheries out to 200 nautical miles from shore. Key objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term economic and social benefits, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
The purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA. The USFWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NOAA are marine wildlife, including anadromous fish, such as salmon.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT ACT
The U.S. Congress recognized the importance of meeting the challenge of increasing coastal growth by passing the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) in 1972. This act, administered by NOAA, provides for management of the nation’s coastal resources, including the Great Lakes. The goal is to “preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation’s coastal zone.”
The CZMA outlines three national programs, the National Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM), the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP). The National Coastal Zone Management Program aims to balance competing land and water issues through state and territorial coastal management programs, the National Estuarine Research Reserves serve as field laboratories that provide a greater understanding of estuaries and how humans impact them, and CELCP provides matching funds to state and local governments to purchase threatened coastal and estuarine lands or to obtain conservation easements.
MARINE MAMMAL PROTECTION ACT
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted on October 21, 1972. All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA. The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, both the “take” of marine mammals in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens on the high seas and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S..