Congress’s March Madness

2017-03-27T15:43:27+00:00 March 27, 2017|
Summary of this month’s ocean and science related legislation. (Credit: Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia)

(Click to enlarge) Summary of this month’s ocean and science related legislation. (Credit: Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia)

While the budget, health care, and Supreme Court hearings dominated the news this month, members of Congress were also busy introducing bills and passing the first science-related acts of the new year.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Department of Defense appropriations bill passed the House this month (after stalling out in the Senate last Congress) with $577.9 billion slated for the Department of Defense (H.R.1301).

Making headlines was a resolution (H.Res.195) signed by 17 House Republicans vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat climate change. Introduced by Representatives Elise Stefanik (NY-21), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), and Ryan Costello (PA-6), the nonbinding legislation acknowledges human activity as responsible for global warming. The bill uses the same language first outlined by former Representative Chris Gibson (NY-19) last Congress. Rep. Curbelo said the goal of the resolution is to shift the debate from “whether climate change is real toward the tangible efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate its effects.” This follows on the heels of the creation of the Climate Solutions Caucus, the first bipartisan group in the House devoted to addressing climate change. Additionally, Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-17) introduced a climate-related bill (H.R.1464) that aims to standardize a “consistent, authoritative set” of climate information at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

On the Earth science front, the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S.442, Public Law No: 115-10), which became law last week, authorizes appropriations for FY 2017 for human space exploration, space science, and technology programs. However, Earth science missions, which have been a part of the space agency since its creation, were not included. Legislation aiming to improve the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration’s weather research through observational, computing, and modeling, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R. 353 and S.570), was introduced in both chambers.

A slew of partisan bills regulating science entered Congress this month, with some garnering controversy. Senator James Lankford (OK) introduced four bills that aim to broadly reform the rulemaking processes. One (S.579) would require a 90-day notice of any major regulation being published, adding extra steps to the already time-consuming process. The Better Evaluation of Science and Technology (BEST) Act (S.578) copies a controversial tactic used to target the EPA — preventing the use of data unless all data is publicly available. In practice, the rule excludes the use of many research studies. The BEST Act broadens the rule to include the entire federal government. Two other contentious regulatory science bills passed on party line votes in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017 (H.R. 1430) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1431). Conversely, the Scientific Integrity Act, (H.R.1358) would require federal agencies to develop and enforce a scientific integrity policy to create scientific and ethical standards.

Several pieces of legislation would regulate the fisheries and boating industries, with particular focus on the Great Lakes. H.R.961 would ban aquaculture in the Great Lakes completely, while H.R.1580 would authorize the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey to support Great Lakes’ research (including on deep-water ecosystems, food webs, and invasive species as well as fish movement, population structures, and habitats) in binational fisheries between the United States and Canada. The Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (H.R.1154) is a companion bill to a controversial one introduced earlier in the year in the Senate that raised concern of ballast water aiding the spread of invasive species. The Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act (H.R.1176), which has been introduced in previous Congresses, would create a federal Working Waterfront Task Force and grant program to help states develop tools to preserve sites for water-dependent commercial activities.

Under the Unleashing American Energy Act of 2017 (S.665), Department of Interior’s restrictions on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic and Atlantic outer continental shelves would be removed. Senator John Kennedy (LA), co-sponsor of the bill, criticized limits put in place by the Obama Administration, saying they “have stunted our economy and cost us thousands” of jobs.

In the education realm, the American Innovation Act (S.641) was introduced to protect funding for basic research by requiring adjustments to discretionary spending limits in FY 2017 – FY 2021 to accommodate increases in appropriations for agencies that perform basic science research, including, The National Science Foundation, the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, and Department of Defense science and technology programs. Lastly, President Trump signed into law two bills promoting — women in science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act, H.R.321, Public Law No: 115-7) and NSF (Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, H.R. 255, Public Law No: 115-10).

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