Appropriators Tackle Ocean Science Bills

2016-06-03T12:39:41+00:00 June 3, 2016|

beach-wallpapers-blue-ocean-waves-wallpaper-36890Last month, 13 bills of interest to the ocean science and technology community were introduced in Congress or advanced through committee. Appropriations season has been heating up in the Capitol and numerous relevant ocean science spending bills have begun their path toward congressional approval.

This is good news given that all 12 appropriations bills have not been agreed to under normal order since the 1990s. S. 2814, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes activities of the Department of Defense and the national security activities of the Department of Energy, was introduced by Senator John McCain (AZ) and unanimously passed the Senate. The House also passed its version of the NDAA, H.R. 4909. Similarly, the Defense appropriations bill, S. 3000, was introduced and passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the House version, H.R. 5293, passed its Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, Navy’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation line is proposed at $16.8 billion – a cut from both the Fiscal Year 2016 level ($18.1 billion) and the president’s request ($17.3 billion). The bill allocates the Navy $543 million for Basic Research, $898.8 million for Applied Research, and $748.1 million for Advanced Technology Development, which are below enacted FY 2016 levels. The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2028) was also passed by the Senate by a 90-8 vote. The House version of the bill, H.R. 5055, failed to pass on the House floor due to controversial riders, including LGBT rights, heavy water from Iran, and California drought provisions.

The Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 was marked up in the House Appropriations Committee. Under the bill, earth and climate sciences would be under-supported across the board. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be funded at $5.6 billion, $185 million below the 2016 enacted level and $268 million below the administration’s request, with climate research and ocean services shouldering the brunt of the cuts. Additionally, the bill would decrease funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by appropriating $7.4 billion for the agency, $57 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $158 million below the president’s request. While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would be funded at its highest rate ever, the earth sciences within NASA would take a hit.

Three additional pieces of legislation were initiated also relating to the NSF. Senator Christopher Coons (DE) introduced American Innovators and Entrepreneurs Act (S. 2889) to amend the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010 to authorize an Innovation Corps. Meanwhile, Representative Matt Salmon (AZ-5) introduced H.R. 5041 to prohibit NSF from conducting research to determine which facets of politics are most stress inducing, which could set a precedent for Congress dictating which scientific studies can proceed. Additionally, H.R. 5049, the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016 was introduced and passed the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. This bill aims to provide improved management and oversight of major multi-user research facilities funded by NSF.

The House passed the controversial Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (S. 2012) and appended the House energy bill, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, H.R. 8, which President Obama has previously threatened to veto.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) put forth S. 2951 to amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to impose penalties in the event of a foreign company’s oil spill in U.S. waters. Senator David Vitter (LA) dropped S. 2930 to ensure that Federal funding for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change complies with applicable statutory limitations already within the U.S. government. This can be construed as a de facto prohibition of funds expenditure for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Finally, in ocean and coastal management, a bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (S. 1523) passed the House after making it through committees last summer. Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-1) introduced the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, H.R. 5277, to amend the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 to establish a Working Waterfront Task Force and an associated grants program.

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